CAIRO: Arab foreign ministers weighed in Thursday on a bitter dispute between Tehran and Riyadh over the hajj pilgrimage, after Iran’s supreme leader questioned Saudi Arabia’s management of Islam’s holiest site.
“The council of Arab foreign ministers condemns the bellicose, inciting statements by the supreme leader, (Ali) Khamenei,” the ministers said in a statement after a meeting in Cairo where the Arab League is based.
“The language used in (Khamenei’s) statements is inappropriate for the highest authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” they said.
Iranians have been blocked from attending the pilgrimage to Mecca that starts on Saturday, after talks on logistics to avoid a repeat of last year’s deadly stampede in the holy city foundered.
The stampede killed 2,300 pilgrims, including hundreds of Iranians.
Khamenei on Monday denounced the “incompetence” of the Saudi royal family as he met with families of victims of last year’s stampede.
“This incident proves once again that this cursed, evil family does not deserve to be in charge and manage the holy sites,” located in western Saudi Arabia, Khamenei said.
Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, has also waded in, telling the Makkah daily on Tuesday: “We must understand these are not Muslims, they are children of Magi and their hostility towards Muslims is an old one.”
The reference to the Zoroastrian religion that prevailed in Iran before Islam is used by fundamentalist Sunnis as an insult against Iranians.
Relations between Shia Iran and ultraconservative Sunni Saudi Arabia were already tense before the regional rivals started trading caustic remarks ahead of the annual pilgrimage.