(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
BEIRUT - Nearly 90,000 Iranians are expected to attend the haj in Medina this year, and were due to start arriving on Sunday, after Tehran boycotted the pilgrimage last year amid tensions with Saudi Arabia.
Iran boycotted the haj last year after hundreds of people, many of them Iranians, died in a crush at the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in 2015, and following a diplomatic rift between the two countries who are vying for power and influence in the region.
In a speech to haj organizers on Sunday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iranians would never forget the “catastrophic events” of 2015 and called on Saudi Arabia to ensure the security of all pilgrims.
Riyadh severed diplomatic relations last year after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran following the execution of a Shi'ite cleric in Saudi Arabia in January 2016.
In February this year Iran, which is predominantly Shi'ite Muslim, sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia, which is mostly Sunni, that initiated the process of Iranian pilgrims returning for the haj.
However, tensions between the two countries remain at an all-time high.