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Sun 27 Sep 2015 10:47 AM

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Saudi Arabia, Iran continue to clash over fallout from haj crush

Unnamed official says 300-strong Iranian group of pilgrims ‘breached grouping rules and caused fatal stampede’, as Iran's supreme leader on Sunday called for an apology from Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, Iran continue to clash over fallout from haj crush
Saudi emergency personnel stand near bodies of Hajj pilgrims at the site where at least 717 were killed and hundreds wounded in a stampede in Mina, near the holy city of Makkah, at the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia on September 24, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

Pilgrims’ breached grouping regulations, causing the crush that killed more than 700 people in Makkah last week, local media have reported.

An unnamed Iranian official has confirmed that a group of 300 Iranian Haj pilgrims moving from the opposite direction was the principal cause of the tragedy.

Quoting Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia’s Arab News said: “Violations began when a group of 300 Iranian pilgrims started moving from Muzdalifa straight to Jamarat, instead of first going to their camps as is generally practiced by Haj pilgrims, to wait for the time of movement of their group.

“Then they moved in the opposite direction on Street 203 where the painful incident took place.”

The group reportedly did not wait for the stone-throwing ritual in Jamarat Al Aqba to complete as required under pilgrims’ rules. Instead, the pilgrims decided to return from the opposite direction and collided with other groups, the newspaper said.

An anonymous official from the Tawafa Establishment for Iranian Pilgrims told Asharq Al-Awsat that the competing flow of pilgrims resulted in overcrowding and the ensuing stampede.

At least 769 people were killed in last week’s stampede during the annual Haj pilgrimage and a further 1,000 injured.

This weekend, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, deputy premier, minister of interior and chairman of the Supreme Haj Committee, announced a review of the Haj operation plans of the security forces, state news agency SPA reported.

At the same time, Iran's supreme leader on Sunday has said Saudi Arabia should apologise for the deaths that resulted from the crush.

"This issue will not be forgotten and the nations will pursue it seriously. Instead of accusing this and that, the Saudis should accept the responsibility and apologize to the Muslims and the victims' families," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying on his official website.

Shi'ite Muslim Iran, which is locked in a series of proxy wars in Arab countries around the Sunni Muslim kingdom, says that at least 144 Iranians are among the dead. Over 300 other Iranians remain unaccounted for, including former ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, Fars news agency reported.

"The Islamic World has a lot of questions. The death of more than 1,000 people is not a small issue. Muslim countries should focus on this," Khamenei said. Other Iranians officials have also alleged the total death toll is more than 1,000.

Iran has summoned the Saudi charge d'affairs three times to ask Riyadh for more cooperation over the incident. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani demanded an investigation into a crush in his speech at the United Nations on Saturday. Parliament is meeting behind closed doors to decide how Iran should pursue this incident lagally.

Rouhani used a major United Nations speech on Saturday to demand an investigation into the “disastrous” incident.

He suggested that Saudi officials should be tried in an international court for a humanitarian “crime”.

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