Saudi Arabia says all flights to and from Iran are canceled

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Monday, January 4, 2016
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The latest developments after Saudi Arabia severs diplomatic ties with Tehran amid a dispute over Riyadh's execution of an opposition Shiite cleric and attacks on Saudi diplomatic posts in Iran. (All times local.)

7:50 p.m.

Saudi Arabia's civil aviation authority says all flights to and from Iran have been cancelled.

The authority made the announcement via Twitter on Monday, a day after Riyadh cut diplomatic ties to Iran, escalating a crisis in relations sparked by Saudi Arabia's execution of a prominent opposition Shiite cleric.

Iran and Shiites across the region condemned the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions, sending tensions soaring between the longtime regional rivals.

The aviation authority said it made the decision to cancel the flights based on the severing of diplomatic relations. It urged airlines to work with customers who had pre-booked tickets to travel to and from Iran.


4:50 p.m.

Germany has called on Saudi Arabia and Iran to mend ties after Riyadh cut diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert says Germany appeals "to both countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to use all possibilities to improve their bilateral relations."

Saudi Arabia cut ties after Iran protested its execution of a prominent opposition Shiite cleric and crowds attacked its diplomatic posts in the Islamic Republic.

Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Monday that "relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are of fundamental importance for solving the crises in Syria and Yemen, and for the stability of the entire region."

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Middle East owed the world more cooperation in trying to overcome regional crises.

Martin Schaefer said that "from point of view of Foreign Minister (Frank-Walter) Steinmeier both Saudi and Iran, too, are obliged to contribute to solving the crises."

4:30 p.m.

Sudan says it is severing its diplomatic relations with Iran. It says the decision would take effect immediately.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry made the announcement in a statement carried by Sudan's state news agency on Monday afternoon.

The move comes after Saudi Arabia and Bahrain both cut diplomatic ties to Iran, while the United Arab Emirates downgraded its ties.


3:40 p.m.

The state-run news agency of the United Arab Emirates says the country is downgrading its diplomatic relations with Iran.

The statement was published on Monday afternoon. The UAE's Foreign Ministry also said it was recalling its ambassador from Tehran.

The statement said the UAE would be downgrading its diplomacy to only focus on business relationships between the Gulf federation and Iran. UAE says it's doing this due to "Iran's continued interference in the Gulf and Arab countries internal affairs."

The move comes after Saudi Arabia and Bahrain both cut diplomatic ties to Iran.


3:10 p.m.

A Bahraini government minister says the tiny island kingdom is severing its diplomatic ties with Iran.

Minister of Media Affairs Isa al-Hamadi made the announcement on Monday.

Bahrain's decision comes amid heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Bahrain frequently accuses Iran of being behind the long-running, low-level insurgency in the country since its majority Shiite population began protests in 2011 against Bahrain's Sunni rulers.


2:14 p.m.

A Russian state news agency is citing a senior diplomat as saying that Moscow is ready to act as a mediator in the escalating conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The report by the RIA Novosti news agency on Monday quotes the diplomat as saying that Russia has developed good relations with both countries through the so-called Vienna group, which is working on a resolution of the Syria conflict, and that he hoped that could help resolve the Tehran-Riyadh dispute.

The agency did not identify the Russian diplomat and it was unclear from the report if Moscow had made the mediation proposal to either side.

Russian state news agencies frequently cite unnamed officials within the government.


2:15 p.m.

A prominent Iranian lawmaker says Saudi Arabia's decision to sever diplomatic ties with Iran likely will force the Islamic Republic to stop sending pilgrims to the annual hajj.

Lawmaker Mohammad Ali Esfanani, spokesman of the Judicial and Legal Committee of the Iranian parliament, made the comments on Monday.

The semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Esfanani as saying: "When a country has cut diplomatic relations with us, it means it is hostile with us."

He also says that "it appears that protection (of pilgrims) and security issues will prevent hajj from taking place."

Saudi Arabia has not officially commented on whether the kingdom's severing of ties with Iran also meant that pilgrims from Iran can no longer attend the hajj. The pilgrimage is required of every able-bodied Muslim once in a person's life.

When Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran from 1988 to 1991, Iran stopped its pilgrims from attending the hajj.


11:50 a.m.

An Iranian official has denounced Saudi Arabia's move to cut diplomatic relations with Iran and accused the Sunni kingdom of stoking tensions region-wide.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari also said Monday that Saudi Arabia's execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr over the weekend was an example of this.

Ansari claims that "Saudi Arabia sees its interests and even its existence in continuing tensions and clashes." He spoke during a weekly press conference in Tehran.

He says the kingdom "tries to resolve its domestic problems through projecting and exporting them abroad."


10:50 a.m.

Saudi officials say gunfire directed toward security forces has killed a man in a village in eastern Saudi Arabia where mourning ceremonies are underway for an executed Shiite sheikh.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported early Monday that a man was killed in al-Awamiya village and a child was wounded. That's where the family of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr is holding three days of mourning at a local mosque. Authorities offered no details on who they suspected in the shooting.

Al-Nimr was an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia's Sunni monarchy but denied ever calling for violence. His execution on Saturday has sparked outrage among Shiites across the region.

The sheikh's brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, has told The Associated Press that Saudi officials informed his family that the cleric had been buried in an undisclosed cemetery, a development that could lead to further protests.


10:30 a.m.

Iran's deputy foreign minister says Saudi Arabia's decision to severe diplomatic relations cannot cover up Riyadh's "strategic mistake" in killing a prominent Shiite cleric.

Hossein Amir Abdollahian also accused Saudi Arabia of promoting terrorism and extremism in the Middle East. His comments were broadcast on Monday on Iranian state television.

Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Iran late Sunday, hours after protesters stormed and set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. It also followed harsh criticism by Iran's top leader of the Saudis' execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Al-Nimr's execution has opened a new chapter in the ongoing Sunni-Shiite power struggle playing out across the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and Iran as primary antagonists.