Iran-Saudi tensions soar over hajj stampede, arms boat

Iranian-Saudi tensions intensified on Wednesday as Tehran threatened a "fierce" response over delays in repatriating hajj stampede victims and the Saudi-led coalition said it had seized an Iranian boat carrying arms for Yemeni rebels.

Tehran: Iranian-Saudi tensions intensified on Wednesday as Tehran threatened a "fierce" response over delays in repatriating hajj stampede victims and the Saudi-led coalition said it had seized an Iranian boat carrying arms for Yemeni rebels.

At least 239 Iranians died in last week's tragedy near the Muslim holy city of Mecca and another 241 are listed as missing.

Tehran has accused Riyadh of hindering its efforts to bring the bodies home.

Iran's foreign ministry spokeswoman said that among the missing was Ghazanfar Roknabadi, 49, the country's former ambassador to Lebanon, a highly sensitive post.

The two rivals in the oil-rich Gulf were already at odds over Iran's support for Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen, which lies on Saudi Arabia's southern flank. That prompted Riyadh to form a coalition of Arab nations to combat the Huthis.

"Saudi officials are failing to do their duties," Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech to graduating navy officers, following delays in the return of the hajj dead, accusing some of the officials of "slyness".

"They should know that the slightest disrespect towards tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims in Mecca and Medina and not fulfilling their obligation to transfer holy bodies will have Iran's tough and fierce reaction."

His comments underscored Iran's increased frustration at Saudi Arabia's refusal to allow a cargo plane into the kingdom to retrieve the dead and take them back to Tehran.

Last week, Tehran also claimed Riyadh had failed to issue visas for Iranian officials who sought to travel to Saudi Arabia to facilitate the repatriation of the dead and the injured.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has so far showed self-restraint and abided by Islamic politeness and brotherhood," Khamenei added, urging the formation of a fact-finding committee by Islamic countries to investigate the causes of the stampede.

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