Qatar says Saudi Arabia barring citizens from hajj pilgrimage
Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of barring its citizens from this year's hajj pilgrimage amid a year-long blockade imposed on the gulf state by a Saudi-led coalition.
Around 1,200 Qataris are eligible to perform hajj under a quota system but Qatar says it has become impossible to obtain permits.
Qatar's National Human Rights Committee said Saudi Arabia has shut down an electronic system used by travel agencies to obtain permits for Qatari pilgrims.
"There is no chance this year for Qatari citizens and residents to travel for hajj," head of the committee Abdullah Al-Kaabi told Reuters.
"Registration of pilgrims from the State of Qatar remains closed, and residents of Qatar cannot be granted visas as there are no diplomatic missions."
An official at Saudi Arabia's hajj ministry said a group of Qataris had arrived for the pilgrimage, but did not say how many there were or whether they had travelled directly from Qatar.
Travel agencies in Doha, however, told Reuters that they have stopped trying to sell hajj packages, which can cost up to $33,000, due to the blockade.
"Last year we lost a lot of money as the crisis started after we had booked everything in Mecca and Medina and we had to pay people back," said a manager of one travel agency in Doha.
"This year, nobody is really trying as people have understood there is no way to go there in these circumstances."
Saudi Arabia temporarily opened the land border with Qatar for hajj last year but it remains closed for this year's pilgrimage.
"We sell hajj journeys by bus with accommodation for around 12,000 riyals," a travel agency manager catering to migrant labourers in Doha said.
"But as nobody can get visas and land borders are closed, it is zero bookings this year."
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha in June last year, accusing Qatar of funding terrorism and cosying up to Iran, Riyadh's regional rival. Doha strongly denies all charges.
Qatari nationals living in the UAE were officially given just 14 days to leave the country, while Qatar Airways was banned from the blockading countries' airspace.
Qatar's only land border with Saudi Arabia was also closed.