Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud says Riyadh will not give up its role as the organizer of the Hajj despite the two deadly tragedies, a human crush and a crane crash, that hit the rituals this year.
"We tried to provide the guests of God with comfort, security and safety …[and we will continue our] duty and responsibilities in serving the guests of God," Salman claimed in a statement carried by Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Monday.
The kingdom has drawn international criticism for its poor management of the Hajj and irresponsible handling of the September stampede.
Iran, which says more than 460 of its nationals were killed in the crush, has slammed Riyadh’s mishandling the incident and its aftermath, and has laid the blame on the kingdom’s “incompetence” in managing the highly-significant ritual.
"Saudi Arabia is incapable of organizing the pilgrimage," said Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a top cleric from Iran.
He called for the Hajj ceremony to be managed jointly by Islamic countries participating in the religious event.
Saudi Arabia has not been able to provide an updated death toll nor a breakdown by nationality of the September 24 tragedy in Mina, near Mecca, during Hajj pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia says approximately 770 people were killed in the incident.
However, Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization officials say about 4,700 people, including over 460 Iranians, have lost their lives in the tragedy.
A new tally by The Associated Press shows that at least 1,453 people were killed in the incident. The AP count is 684 higher than the official toll of 769 provided by Riyadh.
Days before the Hajj, a construction crane collapsed at the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site, killing 109 people, including 11 Iranians.