(AFP) – Sep 18, 2012
DAMASCUS — Saudi Arabia has barred Syrians from entering the country to perform the annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage, Syrian state media said Tuesday, marking the latest break between the two Arab nations.
"The Syrian High Committee of hajj has announced the halt to the pilgrimage this year, due to a failure to reach consensus with the Saudi authorities," the official SANA news agency reported.
The Syrian committee "took all necessary steps for the 2012 hajj season, but the relevant ministry in Saudi Arabia did not sign the accord as it does every year," SANA said.
The hajj to Mecca -- the world's largest annual human assembly -- is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all those Muslims who are able to.
A decision to suspend Syrian participation in the holy pilgrimage, which has not yet been confirmed by Saudi Arabia, would be the latest in a string of moves adopted by Riyadh against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The OPEC kingpin and other energy-rich nations of the Gulf have long demanded that Assad step down while voicing support for the Syrian rebels.
For its part, Damascus has repeatedly made thinly veiled accusations that "some Gulf nations" are supporting "terrorist" groups in Syria, the regime's blanket term for the opposition.
In early August, the opposition Syrian National Council confirmed that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing light arms to Syria's rebels, but not enough to take on the regime's army.
The Syrian uprising, which has steadily militarised in the face of government repression, has left more than 27,000 dead since it erupted in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Civilians have born the vast brunt of the toll.
The United Nations puts the toll at 20,000.
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