Saudi Arabia's highest civil aviation organization has blamed the kingdom's national carrier for delays in transporting hundreds of Egyptians who were performing Umra, or minor pilgrimage, during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
In a statement published Tuesday, the Saudi General Civil Aviation Authority said Saudi Airlines did not provide enough aircrafts to return hundreds of Egyptians after they finished Umra in Mecca last week.
It is the first official admission that Saudi Airlines takes some responsibility for the delays that sparked protests in Egypt and threatened to sour relations between the two Arab nations.
The authority had earlier blamed the pilgrims for the chaos created at the airport, claiming that most pilgrims did not have confirmed bookings and carried huge pieces of baggage in violation of regulations.
On Sunday, hundreds of Egyptians demonstrated in front of the Saudi Embassy in Cairo to protest what they called mistreatment by Saudi Airlines officials at Jeddah airport.
Some protesters claimed that Saudi airport officials felt bitter toward Egyptians for overthrowing former President Hosni Mubarak.
Local papers reported that thousands of Egyptians were stranded, some for several days, in Jeddah last week after ending their pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
They accused Saudi Airlines and Jeddah airport authorities of failing to arrange a sufficient number of flights to transport them back home for the Eid holiday following the end of the rituals.
Saudi commentators have blamed Egyptian media for agitating the public over the delays. Dawoud al-Shrayan accused "some" Egyptian news outlets of trying to blackmail the oil-rich kingdom.
Writing in the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat newspaper Tuesday, Shrayan said since the uprising that toppled Mubarak, Riyadh has provided Cairo with financial aid "that exceded what other countries provided together."
Saudi Hajj Ministry announced on Saturday that it will introduce new measures to prevent overcrowding of pilgrims at Jeddah during peak seasons.
The ministry said the new system will include stricter regulations for pilgrims to move from Mecca to Jeddah on specified timetables after ensuring confirmed flight bookings.