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Iranian pilgrims arrive for the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca on August 30, 2023. Since 2016, Iranian pilgrims have only been able to complete the Hajj pilgrimage. Image Credit: REUTERS file

Dubai: Iranian pilgrims will arrive in Saudi Arabia on December 19 to perform Umrah, marking the end of an eight-year pause.

Abbas Hosseini, Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organisation, said that the first group of 550 pilgrims are scheduled to spend 10 days in Saudi Arabia, dividing their time equally between Mecca and Medina.

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The resumption of pilgrimages comes after extensive discussions and the finalisation of agreements between the Iranian authorities and the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.

Memorandums of understanding and contracts have been signed to facilitate this process.

Hosseini said that the initial group will leave for Saudi Arabia from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. Subsequent Umrah flights are planned from other Iranian cities, including Mashhad, Tabriz, Isfahan, Yazd, Kerman, Ahvaz, Shiraz, Sari, and Zahedan.

A total of 70,000 Iranian pilgrims, divided into 550 batches, are expected to perform Umrah in this season. The despatch of pilgrims is scheduled to continue until February 29, just before the holy month of Ramadan.

Additionally, Hosseini said that individuals who had initially registered for the pilgrimage in 2008 are now eligible to complete their registration.

He highlighted that approximately 5.7 million Iranians are awaiting their opportunity for Umrah, and the organisation is prepared to send between 800,000 and one million pilgrims annually, should conditions remain favorable and necessary support be provided.

China has 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 Shiite cleric and the subsequent storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Since 2016, Iranian pilgrims have only been able to complete the Hajj 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. -- With inputs from Reuters