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Saudi Arabia to open border for Qatari pilgrims, state media report

Saudi King Salman has ordered that the border with Qatar be reopened to allow pilgrims to carry out their annual hajj pilgrimage. The decision represents the first step forward in the current standoff.

The "goodwill gesture" comes amid a diplomatic crisis that began when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June.

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported Thursday that the decision to reopen the borders came after the kingdom's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received an envoy from Doha.

King Salman, who is the custodian of the two Holy Mosques, approved the proposal put forward by the crown prince to open the Salwa border crossing to Qatari pilgrims to perform the hajj, SPA reported.

Read more: What is the Qatar crisis?

Doha skyline (photo: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images for ANOC)

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE have severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar (above)

The Saudi king also ordered that private jets belonging to Saudi airlines be sent to Doha airport "to bring all Qatari pilgrims on his expenses."

The Qatari envoy, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Ali Al Thani, and the crown prince stressed the historical ties between the people of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and between the two royal families.

Qatari authorities last month accused Saudi Arabia of jeopardizing the pilgrimage to Mecca by refusing to guarantee their pilgrims' safety.

In June, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, cutting all air, land and sea links, and imposed economic sanctions. They accused Qatar of destabilizing the region by supporting "terrorists, extremist and sectarian organizations." Doha dismissed the allegations, saying they had "no basis in fact."

ap/sms (AFP, Reuters Saudi Press Agency)

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