Tuesday, 14 January, 2020

At least 700 killed in Saudi Hajj stampede/ Iranian death toll rises to 43/ Iran blames Saudi for pilgrimage disaster/ Saudi Envoy in Tehran Summoned

At least 717 people have been killed in a stampede at the annual Hajj pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia’s civil defence directorate said, as the death toll continued to rise.

The directorate said at least 863 other pilgrims were injured in Thursday’s stampede, which took place in Mina, on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca.

The injured have been evacuated to four different hospitals in the Mina region, according to a civil defence spokesman.

Mina is where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone walls. It also houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.

Al Jazeera’s Basma Atassi, reporting from Mina, said the incident took place in a street between pilgrim camps.

“The street where it happened is named Street 204. This stampede did not happen at the site of the ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual, which was happening today.

“During and after the stampede the pilgrims continued to flock into Mina to perform the devil stoning ritual.”

Amateur video shared on social media showed a horrific scene, with scores of bodies - the men dressed in the simple terry cloth garments worn during Hajj - lying alongside crushed wheelchairs and water bottles.

The head of the Central Hajj Committee, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, blamed the stampede on “some pilgrims from African nationalities,” Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV channel reported.

Iranian authorities have said that at least 43 Iranian nationals were killed in the stampede.

Survivors assessed the scene by standing on the top of roadside stalls as rescue workers in orange and yellow vests combed the area.

About 4,000 people from the rescue services were participating in the operation to help the injured and about 220 ambulances were directed to the scene, a civil defence spokesman said.

Photos released by the defence directorate on its official Twitter account showed rescue workers helping the wounded onto stretchers and loading them onto ambulances near some of the tents.

Al Jazeera’s Omar al-Saleh, reporting from Mecca, said the number of deaths could rise.

“This is only the initial number … The Hajj season was already overshadowed by the crane accident that killed 107 people and wounded more than 200,” Alsaleh said, adding: “The area has turned to a big massive construction site to allow more pilgrims to visit Mecca during Hajj.

“Mina has more than 160,000 tents divided over several camps, and with the 1.9 million people taking part in this year’s Hajj, you will understand the logistical nightmare that the Saudi authorities are facing.

“I’ve seen some footage and it’s really sad. I’ve seen piles of bodies on top of each other.”

Deadly Hajj incidents

Saudi authorities take extensive precautions to ensure the security of the Hajj and the safety of pilgrims. But tragedies are not uncommon.

In 2006, more than 360 pilgrims were killed in a stampede, also in Mina.

The day before the 2006 Hajj began, an eight-story building being used as a hostel near the Grand Mosque in Mecca collapsed, killing at least 73 people.

Two years earlier, a crush at Mina killed 244 and injured hundreds on the final day of the pilgrimage.

And, in 2001, a stampede at Mina killed 35 people.

The worst hajj-related tragedy, which happened in 1990, killed 1,426 pilgrims in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.

Iran blames Saudi for pilgrimage disaster

Iran accused Saudi Arabia of safetyerrors after at least 43 of its citizens died Thursday in a stampede that killed 717 Muslim pilgrims during the annual hajj ceremonies, marking the worst such disaster in 25 years.

After saying the kingdom was responsible for the tragedy, Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said Saudi’s envoy to Tehran would be summoned to the foreign ministry.

The head of Iran’s hajj organization, Said Ohadi, said that, for “unknown reasons,” two paths had been closed off near the site of the “stoning of the devil” ritual where the stampede occurred. In the ritual Muslims throw rocks at a pillar representing the devil.

“This caused this tragic incident,” he said on state television. The names of all Iranians killed in the stampede were read out in a sombre live broadcast in Tehran by a spokesman for the hajj organization.

Saudi Health Minister Khaled al-Falih has for his part blamed undisciplined pilgrims for the tragedy, saying it could have been avoided if they had “followed instructions.”

Following Abdollahian’s lead, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of Iran’s parliament, also blamed the Saudis.

Boroujerdi told the semi-official Fars News Agency that: “the Saudi government showed that it is ineligible and incompetent to manage the hajj ceremony.”

The statement echoes comments by senior Egyptian religious officials to Iranian media, in which the possibility was raised that Saudi authority over the hajj ceremony and Meccan holy sites might be divided among Muslim states.

Those comments came before the stampede, but after an unusual crane collapse two weeks ago at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The collapse killed 107 people and wounded 238 at the holiest site in Islam which houses the Kaaba cube Muslims pray towards, and it ironically took place on September 11, caused by high winds and a sandstorm.

Following the crane collapse Saudi Arabia barred the Saudi Binladin Group from new projects - the Group is owned by the family of Osama bin Laden.

Reporting on Thursday’s tragedy, Saudi’s civil defense service has said at least 717 people were killed and 805 hurt.

Ohadi of Iran’s hajj organization said the path closures had left only three routes to the area where the stoning ceremony was held in Mina, about five kilometers (three miles) from Mecca.

As well as the dead, at least 60 Iranians were injured, he said.

“Saudis should be held accountable”

“Today’s incident shows mismanagement and lack of serious attention to the safety of pilgrims,” said Ohadi. “There is no other explanation. The Saudi officials should be held accountable.”

Abdollahian also accused Saudi officials of “tactlessness” over the lack of safety measures at the hajj.

“We can in no way be indifferent to this irresponsible behavior of Saudi Arabia. This will be dealt with through diplomatic channels,” he said on state television.

Iran has set up a special headquarters at the accident site to support Iranian pilgrims.

“Saudi Arabian officials are responsible for this incident and they should immediately endeavor to take effective measures for managing the existing crisis and providing full security for pilgrims,” Abdollahian told the official IRNA news agency.

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