CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud has ordered the opening of a border with Qatar to allow Qatari pilgrims into Saudi Arabia for the Haj, state media reported on Thursday. The king also offered to fly and host pilgrims at his expense, the Saudi Press Agency said. The Salwa border crossing was shut when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt cut ties and transportation links with Qatar on June 5.
Thursday’s decision was announced after a meeting in the coastal city of Jeddah between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatari Shaikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim al Thani, in the first visit by a Qatari delegate since the crisis erupted.
The crown prince emphasised the “historical relations between Saudi and Qatari people” after his meeting with Doha envoy, the statement added.
Saudi Arabia had last month said that Qataris wanting to perform this year’s Haj would be allowed to enter the kingdom, but imposed certain restrictions including that those arriving by plane must use airlines in agreement with Riyadh.
On his Twitter account, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, too hailed the move by Riyadh on Thursday.”
Saudi Arabia is home to the holy city of Mecca, Islam’s most sacred site, where Muslims go each year to perform the Haj pilgrimage.
Grand Mosque expansion
Saudi Binladin Group will restart work next month on the $26.6 billion expansion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, nearly two years after work stopped in the wake of a crane collapse at the site that killed 107 people, sources told Reuters on Thursday.
Work will resume after the annual Haj pilgrimage, and Saudi Binladin will pay outstanding salaries owed to staff involved in the project beginning on August 20, according to a notice that the company sent to banks.
Development of the Grand Mosque and its surrounding area to accommodate more worshippers was halted after the fatal construction accident in September 2015, and then remained on hold as government finances were squeezed by low oil prices.
The government is now enjoying a moderate recovery in oil income, and it is keen to resume work on big religious tourism and infrastructure schemes as part of a drive to diversify the economy beyond oil exports.
Its plan to restart construction at the Grand Mosque is a fresh sign of the rehabilitation of Saudi Binladin, which was temporarily banned from winning new state contracts after the crane collapse and has been damaged financially by a deep slump in the construction sector.
The Ministry of Finance has allocated a portion of this year’s budget to key projects and has been in talks with Saudi Binladin in recent weeks about restarting several big schemes, the sources said. The ministry pledged to make payments that would enable Binladin to pay its staff, they said.
Another stalled government project in which Saudi Binladin is involved, the $3.5 billion construction of the Abraj Kudai hotel complex in Mecca, will restart in coming months, sources told Reuters earlier this week.
The company also restarted work earlier this year on the new King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah.