MADINAH — The first batch of Iranian pilgrims arrived on Monday at Prince Muhammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah on their way to Makkah to perform Umrah, after a hiatus of nine years. Iranian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ali Reza Enayati and several Saudi and Iranian officials and diplomats were there at the airport to receive the pilgrims.

The first group of Umrah pilgrims departed Iran for Saudi Arabia on board Iran Air that took off from the Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported. Saudi Ambassador to Iran Abdullah Al-Enezi was present at the airport along with several Iranian officials to see off the pilgrims earlier on Monday. They are the first group of Iranians to make the Umrah pilgrimage since Tehran and Riyadh agreed in a China-brokered deal last year to restore ties and reopen their respective embassies after more than eight years.

Speaking to reporters in Madinah, Iranian Ambassador Enayati said that the entry procedures for the pilgrims were much easier. “We thank the officials in Saudi Arabia for providing such an opportunity for Iranian pilgrims, and we will continue this path.”

Enayati described the arrival of the Iranian pilgrims to Madinah this morning as a blessed step in the process of further improving the Iranian-Saudi relations. He expressed his joy and happiness over receiving the pilgrims who landed in the Kingdom after a gap of nine years. “The resumption of Umrah trips for Iranians happened after the agreement reached between the two countries for the resumption of diplomatic relations in March 2023, and that was under the aegis of China. During the coming days, until the beginning of the Hajj season, flights carrying Umrah pilgrims will continue reaching Saudi Arabia, and, God willing, we will continue this blessed act after the Hajj,” he added.

IRNA reported that the official farewell ceremony for the pilgrims took place at Imam Khomeini International Airport, in the presence of Abdel Fattah Nawab, representative of the Supreme Leader for Hajj and Umrah Affairs, Abbas Hosseini, head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, and the Saudi Ambassador Abdullah Al-Enezi.

According to Iranian sources, Iran will transport Umrah pilgrims to Saudi Arabia from 11 airports throughout the country, starting from Monday. There will be a total of 22 flights, and each flight will carry about 260 pilgrims.

Iranians have already been allowed back for the Hajj pilgrimage last year, but Umrah had remained off-limits for them until now. Earlier, Iranian Umrah pilgrims were expected to arrive in the Kingdom in December 2023 but some technical difficulties were blamed for repeated delays. Iran and Saudi Arabia re-established diplomatic ties in March 2023 through a China-mediated agreement, marking a significant development after severing relations in 2016. Iran stopped sending Umrah pilgrims in 2015, one year before severing diplomatic relations.

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