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TEHRAN: In a surprising turn of events, Iran confirmed that the flights scheduled for Saudi Arabia have been suspended as of now.
The Iranians were set to travel to the holy land after a gap of around 8 years; however, an Iran Air spokesperson confirmed the suspension citing ‘technical disagreement’.
The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency also confirmed that Jeddah-bound pilgrimage flights from Tehran, Mashhad and Isfahan scheduled for Wednesday were canceled because the Saudi authorities haven’t issued the required permits.
Though the observers imply that instead of permits, something ‘political’ might be the reason for the suspension of flights, Iran’s Minister of Culture, Mohammad-Mehdi Esmaeili, assured in a statement that the issue is “a technical disagreement” between the countries’ aviation authorities and is nothing serious.
When the resumption of flights was confirmed last month, Iranian authorities said that there was potential of sending between 800,000 to one million pilgrims annually if conditions align favorably and requisite cooperation is extended.
This resumption of Umrah marked a significant moment following the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March 2023. The pilgrimage had ceased in 2015, a year before the two nations severed diplomatic relations.
The controversy between the two countries was the 2015 Hajj stampede which escalated tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran due to the deaths of Iranian pilgrims. Iranian leaders accused Saudi authorities of being responsible for the disaster that led to a death toll of about 2,000 pilgrims including over 400 Iranians.
The China-mediated negotiations between the two countries are now bearing fruit and the resumption of the Umrah pilgrimage was seen as a step in the same direction though the suspension of flights has raised eyebrows.