Riyadh, Aug 17

Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday that it is reopening its border with Qatar to allow Qatari pilgrims attend the Haj, the state media reported.

The Salwa border crossing had been shut after Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June, accusing it of supporting and funding Islamist extremist groups.

According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the announcement to reopen the border for Qatari pilgrims came after the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Qatar's Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali bin Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, in the first high-level public encounter between the countries since the crisis erupted.

Qatari pilgrims wishing to attend the Haj will be able to pass through the Salwa border crossing without needing electronic permits, a statement on the SPA said. The pilgrims would also be welcome through Saudi Arabia's airports, it added.

"All Qatari pilgrims be transported from King Fahad International Airport in Dammam and Al-Ahsa International Airport as his (King Salman) guests. All expenses are to be paid for by the King, under the Programme of the Guests of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud for Haj and Umrah," the statement said.

Saudi state TV said 100 Qataris had arrived at the border crossing on Thursday.

In July, Saudi Arabia had warned Qatari pilgrims would face certain restrictions if they wanted to the attend the Haj. Qatar responded by accusing Riyadh of politicising the Haj and the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion expressed concern at Saudi Arabia's measures, BBC reported In a statement carried by SPA, the Crown Prince thanked Sheikh Al Thani "for his brotherly feelings" as he stressed "the depth of historical relations" between Saudis and Qataris.

Observers say that, despite this goodwill gesture, the dispute between Qatar and its neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE is far from over, the BBC report said.

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