Iran Blasts Saudi ‘Negligence’ as Death Toll Rises to 769 in Hajj Stampede

The death toll from a stampede that occurred on Thursday outside the holy city of Mecca continues to rise, and with it so do tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

According to updated figures released on Saturday by Saudi Health Minister Khalid al-Falih, 769 pilgrims were killed in the panic. The revised number reflects an additional 52 deaths from what had previously been reported. “Those are the ones who died in various hospitals since the event,” al-Falih said in a statement. Another 934 were injured in the crush.

The stampede “was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities,” al-Falih said. He added that a thorough investigation would be conducted.

The suggestion that the pilgrims bore some of the blame for their deaths  did not sit well with the government of Iran, which lost at least 131 citizens in the incident.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian called “Riyadh’s negligence inexcusable,” and announced that he had formed a committee to investigate it.

“I ask the Saudi Arabian government to take responsibility for this catastrophe and fulfill its legal and Islamic duties in this regard,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, in New York for the UN General Assembly, said in a statement.

In Tehran, protesters described by Iranian state television as angry about “Saudi incapability and incompetence to run the hajj,” chanted “Death to the Saudi dynasty.”

Saudi King Salman, for his part, has called for a review of safety protocols in place for the hajj.

On Friday evening, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh met with the crown prince (who also acts chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee), the Saudi Press Agency reports, to assure him he was not to blame for the deaths.

“You are not responsible for what happened because you exerted beneficial reasons in your hands and your ability. As for the things that humans cannot control, you are not blamed for them. Fate and destiny are inevitable,” the Grand Mufti reportedly said.

The stampede began when two groups of pilgrims collided at a crossroads a few miles east of Mecca. Both groups were on their way to perform the “Stoning of the Devil,” a ritual that involves tossing pebbles at three walls.

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