Aerial view of the Grand Mosque during the haj pilgrimage is seen in Mecca, December 31, 2006. Pilgrims from all over the world gather in the holy city of Mecca each year for the five-day hajj, which is a duty for every able-bodied Muslim at least once in

Aerial view of the Grand Mosque during the haj pilgrimage is seen in Mecca, December 31, 2006. Pilgrims from all over the world gather in the holy city of Mecca each year for the five-day hajj, which is a duty for every able-bodied Muslim at least once in a lifetime.

Credit:

REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

How many people died in the recent stampede at the Hajj in Saudi Arabia? It depends on who you ask.

The Saudis say that the total death toll was 769 people. The Iranians say more than 4,000 people have perished, at least 464 of them Iranians.

Rana Rahimpour of the BBC Persian says the Iranians accuse the Saudis of trying to cover up the scale of the disaster. But this latest spat between Iran and Saudi Arabia is just the latest example of hostility that has long existed between the two countries.

"This [hostility] has been going on for about 37 years," Rahimpour says, dating back to Iran's Islamic Revolution.

Iran's rulers are Shiite while the Saudi ruling family is Sunni.

"It's been a very bumpy road between the two countries," Rahimpour says.

In the past couple of years — and with the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen — the already-strained relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia has been worsening.

"You can see an Iranian and a Saudi influence in all these areas of conflict," Rahimpour adds.

In Yemen, for example, Iran has been accused of supporting the Houthi rebels. The Saudis, on the other hand, have been bombing targets in Yemen regularly. The Iranians deny any involvement other than that of an advisory role, but the Saudis say it's much more than that.

Rahimpour says Iranians, who make up a large number of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia each year, are now reconsidering their plans for future visits.

"In the last week there have been many anti-Saudi demonstrations in many cities in Iran," she says, "Many have called for the Saudi embassy to be shut down. Some have said very anti-Saudi slogans."

Some pilgrims had reported abuse even before this latest incident in Saudi Arabia.

"[They] have reported mistreatment by the Saudi police [...] sometimes they are pushed to one side and they report that they get beaten up," Rahimpour says.

But given the place the Hajj holds for Muslims across the world, it seems unlikely that the crowds will abandon the Hajj completely.

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