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Azerbaijan Shuts Office, Mosque Linked To Iranian Supreme Leader Amid Tensions


Iranian Army tanks line up during military exercises near the border with Azerbaijan that have drawn ire from Baku.

Azerbaijan has closed a mosque and an office linked to Iran's supreme leader in Baku just days after Tehran held military maneuvers close to the two countries' common border.

"The [Husseiniyya] mosque and the office of Seyyed Ali Akbar Ojaghnejad, representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Baku, were sealed and closed today by order of the authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan," Iran's Tasnim agency said on October 5.

Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry said in a statement that the cause for the closure, which also affected other indoor spaces, was a surge in coronavirus infections.

"Husseiniyya Mosque is one of the places where the coronavirus has been spreading in recent days. Appropriate measures are being taken by the epidemiological service," the ministry's press service said in a statement on October 5.

Ojaghnejad has been Khamenei's representative in Azerbaijan since 1996, according to the website of his office, which is located on the premises of the mosque.

Iran's embassy in Baku said in a statement on the evening of October 5 that it had followed up on the matter through diplomatic channels, adding that there had been no advance warning of the move.

Tensions have been high recently between the two neighbors, who share a 700-kilometer border.

Iranian ground forces began maneuvers near the frontier on October 1, a move criticized by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

"Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It's their sovereign right. But why now, and why on our border?" Aliyev told Turkish news agency Anadolu. "There were no such incidents in the 30 years of Azerbaijan's independence."

Iranian officials have dismissed Azerbaijan's criticism, saying it is their sovereign right to conduct military exercises on their territory.

They also claimed that third-party forces -- a reference to Iran's arch-foe Israel -- are playing a provocative role in the deterioration of Azerbaijani-Iranian relations.

"Iran will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime near our borders," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

On October 5, Azerbaijan denied Tehran's allegations of an Israeli military presence in the Caucasus country after the Iranian Army launched the exercises.

Israel is a main arms supplier to Azerbaijan, which last year won a six-week war with its neighbor Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva said on October 4 that Iran's claims of a third-party presence near the Azerbaijani-Iranian border were "totally baseless."

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahiann last week told Azerbaijan's ambassador that his country would not tolerate Israel's presence or activity "next to our borders" and vowed to take any necessary action.

Azerbaijan and Iran have long been at loggerheads over Tehran's backing of Armenia in the decades-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Also fueling tensions between the two neighbors is Baku's move to slap customs taxes on Iranian truckers transiting to Armenia.

There are some 10 million ethnic Azerbaijanis among Iran's 83 million people, and Tehran has always been uneasy about separatist feelings among them.

With reporting by AFP
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