1.4 million pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia before hajj

AFP , Thursday 24 Aug 2017

Muslim pilgrims
File Photo: Muslim pilgrims walk during the annual haj pilgrimage in Mena, near the holy city of Mecca (Reuters)

More than 1.4 million Muslims have so far arrived in Saudi Arabia for the hajj, authorities said Thursday.

More than two million people are expected to participate in this year's hajj, a pillar of Islam that capable Muslims must perform at least once in their lives, which starts next week.

"So far 1,313,946 pilgrims have arrived by air, 79,501 by land, and 12,477 by sea -- an increase of 33 percent compared with the same period last year," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said, citing passport officials.

That includes more than 400 Qatari pilgrims, local media reported, despite an intensifying political row between Doha and Riyadh since early June.

All Qatari pilgrims arrived through the Salwa border crossing with Qatar.

The hajj has been clouded by the worst political crisis in the Gulf in decades, with Saudi Arabia leading a four-state bloc that suspended all ties with Doha on June 5 over accusations the emirate backed Islamist extremists.

Qatar has denied the charge and said this week it was worried pilgrims from the emirate would be treated badly.

But the Saudi media has repeatedly broadcast images showing officials courteously assisting Qatari pilgrims.

The hajj ministry has said the kingdom, home to Islam's holiest sites, welcomes all pilgrims from different nationalities.

The ministry added it was equipped to handle the additional crowds after the completion of expansion works at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the most revered site in Islam.

More than 1.8 million faithful took part in last year's hajj.

The annual pilgrimage this year is marked by the return of Iranians after Tehran's boycott last year of the holy rites after tensions between Riyadh and Tehran boiled over following a deadly stampede during the 2015 pilgrimage.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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