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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Saudi Arabia says Qatar is blocking planes from transporting Hajj pilgrims

Doha yet to grant permission for Saudia planes to pick up pilgrims from Hamad international airport

A Saudia flight carrying Indian Hajj pilgrims prepares to depart from Sadar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad on August 13, 2017.  AFP
A Saudia flight carrying Indian Hajj pilgrims prepares to depart from Sadar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad on August 13, 2017.  AFP

Qatar has blocked Saudi planes from transporting Hajj pilgrims, Saudi state media said on Sunday, after Riyadh reopened the border despite a major diplomatic crisis roiling the Gulf.

Riyadh last week reopened its land border with Qatar and allocated seven flights of the Saudi national carrier to bring pilgrims from Doha, in a temporary lifting of a weeks-long boycott of its Gulf neighbour.

"Qatari authorities have not allowed the aircraft to land as it did not have the right paperwork, although the paperwork was filed days ago," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

"Saudi Arabian Airlines director general Saleh Al Jasser has said that the airline has thus far been unable to schedule flights to transport Qatari pilgrims from Hamad International Airport in Doha," SPA added.

The reopening of the border initially sparked hope of a thawing in the Gulf crisis, which saw Saudi Arabia and its allies cut diplomatic ties with Doha in June over accusations that the emirate supported Islamist extremists.

Qatar has denied the allegation.

But even as Doha cautiously welcomed the reopening of the border, it blasted the move as "politically motivated".

Its delay - or refusal - to grant landing rights to Saudi planes could now further stoke tensions.

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Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5 in what has become the worst political crisis to grip the Gulf region in decades.

The four countries also barred direct flights to or from Qatar and blocked Qatari aircraft from using their airspace.

Saudi Arabia last month said Qatari pilgrims would be allowed to enter the kingdom for Hajj this year but imposed several travel restrictions, including flying in only on airlines approved by Riyadh.

The Saudi measures last week to make access easier for Qatari pilgrims came after a visit to the kingdom by a member of Qatar's royal family who resides outside Qatar and whose branch of the family was ousted in a coup more than four decades ago.

Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, who holds no official post in Qatar, also met Saudi King Salman at his summer palace in Morocco over the weekend and launched a verified Twitter account to raise his profile. He has since taken credit for setting up a hotline inside Saudi Arabia for Qataris who require additional assistance during the Hajj, which starts at the end of the month.

Sheikh Abdullah used his new Twitter account on Sunday to express his disappointment over Saudi aircraft not being given permission to pick up Qatari pilgrims.

"I hope the brothers in Qatar cooperate to facilitate the pilgrimage of citizens," he wrote.