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

As Hajj pilgrims flock to Mecca, Saudi Arabia and Iran trade jibes
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By Natalie Huet
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After last year's devastating stampede, Iran and Saudi Arabia's top clerics quarrel over management of the pilgrimage

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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.

A year after the worst hajj disaster in a generation, Saudi Arabia is taking steps to prevent repeating the accidenthttps://t.co/DOp7Yzxvrm

— Newsweek Middle East (@NewsweekME) 4 septembre 2016

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.”

#Saudi Grand Mufti replies to Khamenei lies by calling #Iran's leaders “descendants of Zoroastrians” & “not Muslims” https://t.co/WjK7UDkNpG

— David A. Weinberg (@DavidAWeinberg) 6 septembre 2016

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.

Iran and Saudi Arabia trade insults as Muslim pilgrims prepare for the annual hajj https://t.co/DUma4D75i4pic.twitter.com/2Shv3EPYMr

— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) 6 septembre 2016

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