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Saudi King Reaffirms Commitment to Hajj After Iran Criticism

  • VOA News

Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, talks to one of the injured in the Sept. 11, 2015 crane accident at the mosque, at a hospital in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 13, 2015.

Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, talks to one of the injured in the Sept. 11, 2015 crane accident at the mosque, at a hospital in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 13, 2015.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Monday rejected any suggestions his country should give up its role as the organizer of the hajj following last month's deadly stampede in Mina.

The Saudi monarch said "irresponsible comments" and criticism against the kingdom's handling of security during the hajj will not affect his country's oversight of the annual Islamic pilgrimage.

The event was marred by a disaster when two crowds converged on a narrow street just outside Mecca on September 24.

The official Saudi death toll remains 769, but a new estimate, based on an Associated Press count, suggests that 1,480 people died in the stampede. This new number would make it the deadliest catastrophe in the history of the event.

Saudi officials have yet to provide an updated count or a breakdown by nationality.

Iranian leaders have accused Saudi Arabia, their regional rival, of mismanagement and ineptitude, and a top Iranian cleric called for the hajj to be managed by other Islamic states after at least 465 Iranians were among those killed — the highest number announced by any country thus far.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry on Monday said the death toll among Egyptians has climbed to 181, with 53 still missing.

In an apparent reference to those comments, Salman said the kingdom "will not allow any hidden hands" to politicize the tragedy and divide Muslims, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

Salman last month ordered "a revision" of how the hajj is organized.

Days before the hajj, a construction crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site, killing 109 people including many foreigners.

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