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    Jan 06, 2016

    Saudi to halt flights, trade with Iran


    TENSIONS between Saudi Arabia and Iran worsened yesterday as Riyadh said it would be cutting trade ties and air links with Teheran, following the full-blown diplomatic crisis over the weekend which has sparked global concern.

    Saudi Arabia's General Authority of Civil Aviation (Gaca) said it had informed all airlines operating in the kingdom that it was "suspending and preventing all their flights to and from Iran", according to the state news agency SPA.

    State-owned carrier Saudi Arabian Airlines - known as Saudia - shows only one direct route to Iran on its website, linking Dammam in the kingdom's Eastern Province with Mashhad, the Islamic Republic's second largest city, Bloomberg reported.

    Iranian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia will be allowed in if they book with an airline from a third country, Gaca said.

    Saudi Arabia has also moved to punish Iran commercially by cutting trade ties, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters.

    Saudi Arabia has severed diplomatic ties with Iran after protesters set the Saudi embassy in Teheran on fire on Saturday following the execution of Saudi cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Riyadh, who had been critical of the kingdom's treatment of its Shi'ite Muslim minority.

    Bahrain and Sudan, both Sunni Arab allies of Saudi Arabia, have also broken ties with Iran, a Shi'ite power.

    In sympathy with Riyadh, the United Arab Emirates reduced its representation in Iran, while Kuwait recalled its ambassador to the country.

    The Sunni Arab nations accuse Teheran of repeatedly meddling in their affairs, with Mr al-Jubeir saying "Iran's history is full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues".

    Riyadh has said it will restore ties only when Iran stops meddling in the affairs of other countries.

    Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, spokesman of the Iranian government, said yesterday in criticism of Riyadh for exacerbating the diplomatic crisis: "This is a reaction to their failures in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which Saudi Arabia wants to compensate for."

    Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have long competed for influence in the Middle East, have seen their relations severely tested in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where they back opposing factions.