Saudi Arabia: Calls to ‘internationalize’ holy sites ‘declaration of war’

Saudi Arabia: Calls to ‘internationalize’ holy sites ‘declaration of war’
The feud between the Saudi-led block and Qatar escalated over the weekend, with Doha protesting to the UN over restrictions on its citizens flying to Mecca, and Riyadh threatening “war” over what it considers calls to “internationalize the holy sites” in Mecca and Medina.

Following a meeting Sunday of the so-called Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) of Arab states which are embroiled in a conflict with Qatar, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir lashed out at Doha, accusing it of politicizing the Hajj – the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim has to perform at least once in their lifetime.

“Qatar’s request to internationalize the holy sites is an aggressive act and a declaration of war against the kingdom,” al-Jubeir told the Al Arabiya channel, adding, that Saudi Arabia “reserve the right to respond to any party” promoting such demands.

It was not immediately clear when such a move was suggested, as Doha has yet to publicly call for Islam’s two holiest sites to be placed under international oversight. Al-Arabiya reported that Qatari media floated the idea after Saudi Arabia enforced new rules for Qataris travelling to Mecca in view of the air blockade on Doha.

On Saturday, Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) lodged a complaint with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of belief and religion over what it called a “stark violation of international laws and agreement that guarantee the right to worship.”

In a statement cited by Al Jazeera, the commission said it is “extremely concerned over [Saudi Arabia] politicizing religious rituals and using [Hajj] to achieve political gains” and said it was filing another claim against Riyadh with UNESCO over the maltreatment of Qataris.

Qatar’s human rights commission also protested that Saudi Arabia has made it extremely difficult for many Qataris to reach Mecca by stipulating that they can only land at two Saudi airports – King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah and Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Airport in Medina.