Gulf Arab states accused Iran on Wednesday of trying to politicise the hajj after its supreme leader lashed out at Saudi authorities over their management of the annual pilgrimage.
The head of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council said that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's remarks accusing Riyadh of "murder" over the deaths of nearly 2,300 pilgrims at last year's hajj were "inappropriate and offensive".
Abdullatif al-Zayani said the comments were "a clear incitement and a desperate attempt to politicise" the hajj.
This year for the first time in almost three decades Iranians will not join the annual pilgrimage to the Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia after talks on logistics and security fell apart in May.
The verbal sparring between the two regional rivals -- who have no diplomatic relations -- has intensified ahead of the start of the pilgrimage on Saturday.
In a scathing open letter published on Monday, Khamenei accused the Saudis of failing to protect pilgrims and called on Muslim countries to strip Saudi Arabia of the right to manage the hajj.
"The hesitation and failure to rescue the half-dead and injured people... is also obvious and incontrovertible. They murdered them," the Iranian leader wrote.
Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, countered that that Iranians were "not Muslims", prompting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to accuse Saudi leaders of "bigoted extremism"..
Zayani said the Gulf Arab states "reject the unjust media campaign and the successive declarations of senior Iranian leaders against the Saudi kingdom".
Such allegations are "totally incompatible with the values and precepts of Islam which extol compassion, love and brotherhood," he added.