MAKKAH: Saudi authorities have arrested and fined nearly 300 people caught trying to perform Haj without permits, an official said on Monday, as the kingdom prepares to receive one million people for the annual pilgrimage.

Some 288 “citizens and residents were arrested for violating Haj regulations,” Lieutenant General Mohammed al-Basami, head of Haj security, told a press conference broadcast on state-run media, adding that they were each fined 10,000 Saudi riyals (around $2,600).

Officials have also imposed a security cordon around Makkah, Islam’s holiest city where the Grand Mosque is located, and barred nearly 100,000 people in more than 69,000 vehicles from entering, Basami said.

One million people, including 850,000 from abroad, are allowed to participate in this year’s Haj after two years of drastically curtailed numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic. That is below the 2.5m people who performed Haj in 2019, before the pandemic hit, but significantly higher than the 60,000 people, all of them fully vaccinated Saudi citizens, who took part last year.

At least 650,000 pilgrims had arrived from overseas for Haj as of Sunday, authorities said. The pilgrimage officially starts on Wednesday, but on Monday pilgrims were already performing rituals.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2022

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