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Middle East

Saudi Arabia halts flights and trade with Iran

© Bilal Qabalan, AFP file picture | A general view of downtown Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-01-05

Saudi Arabia's breach of ties with Iran will extend to cutting air traffic between the countries, ending commercial relations and barring its citizens from travel to the Islamic Republic, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Monday.

Iranian pilgrims will still be welcome to visit Mecca and Medina, Jubeir said in an interview with Reuters news agency, though adding that Iran must behave like "a normal country" instead of "a revolution" and respect international norms before ties could be restored.

The Saudi civil aviation authority later confirmed that all flights to and from Iran had been cancelled.

The escalating row between the two regional heavyweights was sparked by Sunni majority Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute leading Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, which triggered furious protests in Shiite Iran.

Saudi Arabia said it was cutting ties with the Islamic republic on Sunday after its embassy in Tehran was attacked by protesters.

'Iran and S. Arabia at odds with each other over oil'

Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, followed suit on Monday, giving Iranian embassy and consular staff 48 hours to leave the country.

Sudan and the United Arab Emirates later rallied behind oil-rich Saudi Arabia, with Khartoum ejecting Iran’s ambassador and Abou Dabi announcing it was downgrading diplomatic ties with Tehran.

‘Excuse’ to fuel tensions

Nimr, a prominent opponent of Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud dynasty, was executed on Saturday along with three other Shiites and 43 members of al Qaeda.

As news of the execution spread on Sunday, enraged Iranians burst into the Saudi embassy where they destroyed furniture and started fires. Demonstrators also attacked a consulate in Iran’s second city of Mashhad.

Protests spread to Bahrain, a Sunni kingdom which has a Shiite majority population.

Saudi authorities said they had asked Iranian officials to ensure security at the embassy, but that Tehran had failed to do so. Riyadh hit back by ordering diplomats, as well as consular and embassy staff, representing Tehran to leave the country within 48 hours.

Tehran hit back on Monday, accusing Saudi Arabia of exploiting the embassy attack to fuel tensions in the region, adding that it was committed to protecting foreign diplomatic missions.

"Iran... is committed to provide diplomatic security based on international conventions. But Saudi Arabia, which thrives on tensions, has used this incident as an excuse to fuel the tensions," Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in televised remarks.

‘Inhuman’ execution

Relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-ruled Iran have been strained for decades, with Riyadh frequently accusing Tehran of interfering in Arab affairs.

The two countries have also been divided over the nearly five-year war in Syria, where Iran is backing the regime, and the conflict in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Shiite rebels.

‘Lowest Saudi-Iran relations since Iran-Iraq war’

Nimr was a central figure in Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges but denied advocating violence.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned Nimr's execution, saying "God will not forgive" the kingdom for putting him to death.

"The unjustly spilt blood of this martyr will have quick consequences," he said, adding, "It will haunt the politicians of this regime."

Meanwhile, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani condemned the execution as “inhuman”, but also urged the prosecution of “extremist individuals” for attacking the embassy and the Saudi consulate, state media reported.

UN Security Council condemnation

The UN Security Council also condemned the attack on the Saudi embassy, in a statement released on Monday that made no mention of the execution of Sheikh al-Nimr and called on Iran to protect diplomatic personnel and property.

“The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the attacks against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran, and its Consulate General in Mashhad in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which resulted in intrusions into the diplomatic and consular premises, causing serious damage,” said the council statement.

Expressing “deep concern” over the attacks, the 15-member council “called on the Iranian authorities to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel, and to respect fully their international obligations in this regard”.

Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi had earlier urged the council to “take all appropriate measures to ensure the inviolability of diplomatic facilities and the protection of all Saudi diplomats in Iran”.

International fears were growing that the Saudi-Iranian rift would derail peace efforts in Syria and Yemen, and two UN envoys were dispatched to Riyadh to keep diplomatic gains afloat.

“The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia will definitely have a negative impact” on the peace process, Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian opposition-in-exile, told AFP on Monday.

“The negotiations were already difficult, if not impossible, and this conflict is only going to lead to positions becoming more entrenched,” he said.


Date created : 2016-01-04

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