MECCA (Saudi Arabia), August 19, 2018 (AFP) - More than two million Muslims from around the globe on Sunday started the hajj pilgrimage at Islam's holiest sites in Saudi Arabia, one of the world's largest annual gatherings.
The conservative kingdom, which is undergoing dramatic social and economic reforms, has mobilised vast resources for the six-day journey, one of the five pillars of Islam.
"It's the dream of every Muslim to come here to Mecca," Frenchman Soliman Ben Mohri said.
"It's the ultimate journey. What worries me is the return to my normal life. For the moment, I am in a dream," the 53-year old told AFP.
Every Muslim is required to complete the hajj at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.
Tens of thousands of security personnel have been deployed for the pilgrimage, which was struck by its worst ever disaster three years ago when around 2,300 worshippers were crushed to death in a stampede.
This year, the Saudis have launched a "smart hajj" initiative, with apps to help pilgrims with everything from travel plans to medical care.
The interior ministry said on Saturday that the number of pilgrims arriving in Mecca had already surpassed the two million mark, mostly from abroad including large contingents from Egypt, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
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.
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 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.
"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.
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.
"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 said.
"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.
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.