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As Hajj pilgrims flock to Mecca, Saudi Arabia and Iran trade jibes

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As Hajj pilgrims flock to Mecca, Saudi Arabia and Iran trade jibes

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In Saudi Arabia, hundreds of thousands of worshippers have started arriving in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam.

The pilgrimage must be performed at least once in their lifetime by all Muslims able to make the expensive and difficult journey.

This year, the event starts on Saturday (September 10) and authorities have ramped up security, including by giving pilgrims electronic bracelets, to prevent a repeat of last year’s devastating stampede.

The disaster, which killed at least 2,400 people according to Associated Press estimates, has fueled tensions with the country’s biggest rival, Iran. Tehran has said more than 400 of those dead were Iranian, and blamed the huge toll on mismanagement of the pilgrimage.

On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei accused the Saudis of murder, saying the injured had been “locked up” with the dead instead of being cared for.

The Saudis called the accusations unfounded and the kingdom’s top cleric hit back on Tuesday, saying Iranians “are not Muslims.”

The spat highlights the deep sectarian and strategic rivalry between Shiite-led Iran and the Sunni royal family of Saudi Arabia.

This year, no Iranians will attend the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, and Khamenei has called on Muslim countries to consider ending Saudi control of the holy sites.

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