[Saudi King Salman (L) with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in a file photo.]
Riyadh/Doha: The ongoing crisis between GCC countries in the Middle East deepened further after Qatar called for internationalization of Hajj in response to which Saudi foreign minister retorted back saying the latest rhetoric by the neighboring country is a "declaration of war".
Qatar on Saturday while accusing Saudi Arabia of politicising Hajj, called for the Haj control to be given to international body - a demand earlier mooted by Iran and its allies.
Qatar also filed a complaint with the UN protesting what it called "new restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia against Qatari nationals" planning to travel to Makkah for the annual Muslim pilgrimage.
Saudi authorities denied any restriction on Haj pilgrims coming from any country, including Qatar.
However Qatar's demand for internationalization of Hajj received the harshest reaction so far from Saudi Arabia.
Speaking to Al Arabiya and Al Hadath TV channels at the end of Sunday’s meeting of the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ), Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said: “Qatar’s demands to internationalize the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom.”
“We reserve the right to respond to anyone who is working on the internationalization of the holy sites", he added.
The ATQ — comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain — has previously issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, which include curtailing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shutting down the Al Jazeera channel, closing a Turkish military base and downgrading its relations with Gulf enemy Iran.
On Sunday, the foreign ministers of the four countries said they were ready for dialogue with Qatar if it showed willingness to tackle their demands.
In their joint statement, the ministers denounced the deliberate act of Qatari authorities to obstruct the performance of Hajj rituals by Qatari nationals.
They commended the facilities provided by the government of King Salman to all pilgrims.
According to Reuters, Al-Jubeir said Qatar was not serious in tackling the countries’ demands.
“We are ready to talk with Qatar on the implementation of the demands, on the implementation of the principles, if Qatar is serious, but it has been clear that it is not,” the minister told a joint news conference after the meeting.