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First Group of Qatari Pilgrims Enter Saudi Arabia by Land: Saudi TV

Muslim pilgrims attend the evening prayers inside the Grand Mosque and holy Kabba, the holiest places for Muslims around the world, on January 3, 2006 in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. (Getty)

Qatari pilgrims began arriving in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Saudi media reported, after Riyadh said it was opening up its border and airports for those attending the annual haj pilgrimage despite a diplomatic rift that cut travel ties.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed transport links with Qatar in June and imposed sanctions, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and Iran.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said the Salwa border point would be open for Qataris performing the haj, which this year runs from late August to early September.

Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television and state television reported that 50 Qatari pilgrims had entered Saudi territory on Thursday through the Salwa crossing, which was opened for the first time since the four-nation boycott of Qatar began.

The pilgrims entered as guests of the Saudi king, al-Arabiya said.

Saudi Arabia had already said Qatari pilgrims would not be affected by the travel restrictions. Qatari pilgrims can cross the frontier without the permits usually needed to be obtained in advance for the haj, SPA said.

The Saudi king has ordered the dispatch of a Saudi Airlines plane to fly Qatari pilgrims to Jeddah at his own expense, SPA added. Qatari pilgrims would also be able to pass through two of the kingdom’s airports, it added.

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