Dec 13, 2023
Iran Umrah pilgrims to board flights for Saudi from Dec. 19 after 8-year pause -media
DUBAI, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Iranian pilgrims will for the first time in eight years begin regular travel to Saudi Arabia from Dec. 19, Iranian media reported on Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between the two oil-producing rivals in the Gulf.
Flights will take off from 10 airports around Iran carrying Iranians travelling on the year-round Umrah pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the semi-official Fars news agency said.
The first dispatch of Iranian Umrah pilgrims will occur from Dec. 19, Fars added.
China mediated an agreement in March under which Iran and Saudi Arabia resumed full diplomatic relations that were cut in 2016 over Riyadh's execution of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric and the subsequent storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Since 2016, Iranian pilgrims have only been able to complete the haj pilgrimage, a religious duty deemed compulsory for Muslims who aim to carry it out once in their lifetime and which is subject to strict annual quotas and timings.
Iranians are now able to complete the Umrah as well, known as the "lesser pilgrimage" that can be taken at any time of the year and which is not generally deemed compulsory in Islam.
Negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia also aim to re-establish non-religious tourism between the two countries, with flights linking their capitals.
Fars said up to 70,000 Iranian pilgrims were expected to travel to Saudi Arabia by the end of February 2024.