SAUDI Arabia’s Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten, has made an inspection tour of the headquarters of the Haj Tawafa Establishment for Iranian pilgrims.

A total of 83,828 Iranians will perform Hajj this year after an absence last year during tensions between the regional rivals.

During the meeting, on Wednesday with Dr Talal Qutb, president of the board of the Establishment and its members, the minister discussed the Establishment’s Hajj operation plan and the arrangements for the upcoming Hajj season.

Their discussion covered almost all aspects of the Hajj operation, including reception of pilgrims and their grouping, as well as accommodation, transportation, food, awareness programmes, and other services and facilities upon their arrival until departure.

The minister underlined the need for improving the services and facilities so as to enable pilgrims perform their rituals in ease and comfort, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Dr Qutb said that electronic visas were being issued for the pilgrims. He said the arrangements for the pilgrims from Iran started immediately after the end of the last hajj season.

“The arrangements for the Iranian pilgrims were not different from those of pilgrims from other parts of the world,” he said, adding that all the preparations were well in place to enable the Iranian pilgrims perform their rituals in peace and tranquility.

Benten also toured the facilities of the United Zamzams Office and the arrangements for distribution of Zamzam water among pilgrims.

No Iranian pilgrims attended the hajj last year because of deepening tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iranian participation in the pilgrimage had become yet another flash point in their sectarian and strategic conflict.

According to The New York Times, the tensions have risen in recent years as they have supported opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia, ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, accuses Iran of weakening Arab states by funding militias. Iran, a revolutionary Shiite state, accuses Saudi Arabia of spreading an intolerant interpretation of Islam that has fed terrorism and endangered minorities.

Relations between the two countries worsened after the 2015 Hajj, when a human crush killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, including more than 464 Iranians, according to a count by The Associated Press. Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused Saudi Arabia of having mismanaged the holy sites and called on the world’s Muslims to reconsider Saudi control of them.

Saudi Arabia said the crush happened because pilgrims went the wrong way down a one-way passage but has never provided a detailed explanation of

Last year, 1.8 million Muslims from around the world attended the Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam and which all capable Muslims must perform at least once in their lives.

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