09/10/2016, 15.49
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As Hajj begins today, some 1.5 million pilgrims expected in Makkah

Riyadh tightened security after the pilgrimage was marred by incidents in the recent past. About 17,000 agents and 3,000 vehicles will be deployed. After preliminary rites in previous days, pilgrims today set off towards Mina. The absence of Iranian pilgrims is controversial. The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At least 1.5 million people are expected for this year's Hajj pilgrimage, which begins today in Makkah.

As of last Thursday, more than a million people have arrived in Saudi Arabia. This year pilgrims will be subject to extra security measures such as electronic bracelets.

More than 17,000 officers and 3,000 vehicles used by Saudi security forces will be deployed to ensure the safety of hundreds of thousands of people who will crowd the holy places of Islam.

After preliminary rites at the Grand Mosque in Makkah in the past few days, pilgrims today will make their way by bus, train or on foot to Mina, about 5km the east, to a small granite hill called ‘Mount of Mercy’ where, according to Muslim holy texts, Adam and Eve were reunited after their expulsion from Eden. Muhammad took the same path some 1400 years ago.

In 2013, for security reasons, the Saudi kingdom reduced by 20% the number of foreign pilgrims allowed to come Hajj. Every Muslim country can send a pilgrim for every 1,000 inhabitants. Due to the large numbers of people, there have been several serious accidents in the past few years.

Last September, some 2,000 people died in Mina during a disastrous stampede of pilgrims heading towards the Jamarat Bridge.

Riyadh tried to minimise the number of deaths, but has been criticized by several countries (especially Iran) for poorly handling security.

For the first time in 30 years, Iranian pilgrims will not come because of recent religious-political tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia triggered by a blistering attack by Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, who called the Saudis infidels and blasphemers, “small and puny satans” in US hands.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are also involved in an unresolved dispute over visas and direct flights between the two countries.

The Hajj is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and every good Muslim should perform it at least once in life.

For Saudi Arabia, the pilgrimage represents the end of the tourist season. In 2015 foreign pilgrims spent a total of € 4.75 billion on the event (€ 4,100 each).

Saudi Arabia has often used its power to grant entry visas for political purposes. For example, Syrians have not been allowed to travel to the Muslim holy cities for many years.

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