MECCA, Saudi Arabia, August 18, 2018 - Hisham Mostafa briefly forgot the war in Syria and his financial worries as he looked upon Islam's holiest sites for the first time, standing among hundreds of thousands of white-clad Muslims gathered in Mecca ahead of the haj pilgrimage.
"This is the first time I see the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba. It is the best feeling of my life to be able to perform the haj," said Mostafa, 50, as he looked at the cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims turn in prayer five times a day.
The accountant traveled to Saudi Arabia from Turkey where he has lived for five years since fleeing Aleppo in Syria. "War destroys everything ... Life in Turkey is hard and I barely earn enough."
But he was able to join about 2 million Muslims, including 1.68 million from abroad, flooding Mecca's narrow streets for the annual rite which starts on Sunday.
Nayef Ahmed, 37, told Reuters that in order to afford the haj he had to sell a plot of land in Yemen, which is embroiled in a three-year proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
"Because of the war the prices are very high. But being here I feel comfort and peace and I pray to God for the war to end."
Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam's holiest sites and organising a peaceful haj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.
The interior ministry has put in place measures to confront any security threat from militant attacks to political protests, but no specific threats have been detected, a spokesman said.
"We will prevent any actions that are not part of the haj ritual and any act that may impact the safety of pilgrims or their ability to perform the rite," Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki told Reuters.
Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means should perform the haj at least once in their lifetime under a quota system.
"I came for umrah (minor pilgrimage) in 2007 and today after 10 years of registering and waiting, I am here," said Najwa, 59, from Tunisia. "I cannot describe the feeling. I cry every day."
The haj itinerary retraces the route Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago. Saudi Arabia has made use of technology to manage the flow of millions at the same place at the same time.
This includes electronic identification bracelets, connected to GPS, that were introduced after a 2015 crush killed hundreds.
"There is a comprehensive electronic agenda for every pilgrim and we have provided many apps that offer guidance," Minister of Haj and Umrah Mohammed Bintin told Reuters.
"We have a fleet of more than 18,000 buses, all of them linked to a control system that tracks their path."
He said a high speed railway between Mecca and Medina had been completed and was being now being tested.
Pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the kingdom's economy away from oil. The haj and year-round umrah generate billions of dollars in revenues from worshippers' lodging, transport, fees and gifts.
Officials aim to increase the number of umrah and haj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.
DUBAI, August 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Saudi state oil giant producer Saudi Aramco is still committed to meeting future oil demand through continued investments, the kingdom's Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih said in a company report on Friday.
Aramco, which is slated for a public share sale, "continued to prepare itself for the listing of its shares, a landmark event the companu and its board anticipate with excitement," Al Falih was quoted as saying.
RIYADH, August 17, 2018 (MENA) - Saudi Arabia has provided a sum of $100 million for the US-led international coalition to combat Daesh plots in the areas liberated in northeast Syria, the Saudi Press Agency reported Friday.
This is the largest ever contribution made by Riyadh for the coalition, and comes in implementation of Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir's pledge during the Global Coalition Ministerial Conference in Brussels, hosted by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on July 12.
This contribution will play a critical role in the coalition’s efforts to revitalize communities, such as Raqqa, which have been devastated by Daesh terrorists.
CAIRO, August 11, 2018 (MENA) – Egyptian Foreign Ministry urged the pilgrims not to have medicines deemed illegal in Saudi Arabia during their travel there.
Drugs, such as Tramadol, are forbidden in Saudi Arabia and could bring its holders accountable before the justice.
If such drugs are necessary, the patients should head to the Egyptian Health Ministry’s medical mission to have their doses, and preferably to have their prescriptions with them, deputy foreign minister for consular affairs Khaled Yousry said.
MECCA, August 11, 2018 (MENA) - Head of Egypt's Pilgrim Mission in Saudi Arabia Amr Loutfy said there are no missing pilgrims so far.
In statements to MENA, he said that the number of pilgrims who won the lottery hajj and arrived in Saudi Arabia to perform the rituals reached 20,360.
Loutfy said that August 15 is the deadline for the arrival of all pilgrims who won the lottery.
He underlined that six pilgrims, including four from the mission, have died, while 19 other members of the mission were admitted to Saudi hospitals.
RIYADH, August 11, 2018 (MENA) - Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has ordered the hosting of 1,000 pilgrims from the families of martyrs of the Egyptian Armed Forces and police, the Saudi press agency reported Saturday.
The decision comes as part of the king's Hajj Guests Program, annually supervised by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance.
In a statement, Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance Sheikh Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh said this year's guests are coming from the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, noting that thousands of male and female pilgrims have benefited from this program since it started 22 years ago.