Last Updated : Monday, October 29, 2012 12:44 AM
HAJ operations are moving into the final stages. Mina is now practically deserted with pilgrims having left the holy site by Sunday evening, completing the three-day ritual of stoning the devil at Jamarat.
If standing at Arafat represents the essence of the Haj, Jamarat was, at one time, the yardstick by which the whole world measured the success or failure of Haj operations. Until recently, the Jamarat posed the most formidable challenge, in terms of crowd control and organization, to the Saudi authorities involved at various levels of Haj operations.
Given the limited space and the number of pilgrims (3,161,573 from 189 countries this year, eight percent more than last year), stoning had always been the most dangerous part of the pilgrimage. But the construction of a five-story bridge at Jamarat has made all this a thing of the past. Human ingenuity and the willingness of the Saudi authorities to invest heavily to enhance the comfort and safety of pilgrims has made it possible for so many more pilgrims to take part in the stone-throwing ritual without endangering each other.
In the past, panic sometimes ensued when a pilgrim fell on the bridge, and others tried to escape the push of the oncoming crowd. One tragedy occurred after pieces of luggage spilled from moving buses in front of one of the entrances to the bridge, causing pilgrims to trip. However, the expansion of the Jamarat bridge and newer and more efficient methods of crowd control have all but eliminated the chances for such mishaps.
Safety in the holy sites has been improving steadily. Studies are conducted on a regular basis to ensure that nothing goes amiss during the peak of pilgrimage.
The result can be seen in all fields connected with Haj operations including health care for pilgrims. The Ministry of Health monitors and follows up the health of pilgrims in the field and through its control center. Transportation of pilgrims from Mina to Arafat is becoming smoother and less time consuming.
This year large numbers of pilgrims preferred to walk from Mina to Arafat using pedestrian pathways in view of new regulations which banned vehicles with a capacity of 25 passengers or less. Four pedestrian pathways and seven roads for vehicles and buses were used for transporting pilgrims.
A larger fleet of helicopters was deployed in security operations this year. The number of helicopters now stands at 19. They include S-92 and Schweizer S-434 helicopters that carry out reconnaissance operations. Civil Defense helicopters transmit aerial pictures of the movement of pilgrims to and from the Grand Mosque so that authorities can monitor and deal with any problems that might occur.
Helicopters are also used in firefighting in crowded areas, such as tents and warehouses, in addition to rescue operations and airlifting of casualties to hospitals. They also help evacuate pilgrims trapped in dangerous or isolated areas.
Congratulations to all those who strove hard to make this year’s Haj a resounding success.
Abdul Rahman Al-Ali
MINA – Over 63,000 security officers from different sectors oversaw the transportation plan of 70 percent of pilgrims who headed to the Grand Mosque to perform the farewell tawaf amid tightened security measures. Once pilgrims complete their tawaf ritual, they will leave Makkah on board 18,300 buses.
Pilgrims pelted Sunday all three Jamarats while their movement was monitored by 3,000 surveillance cameras. No cases required the intervention of security officers who had been positioned at the entrances to Al-Jamarat building.
The Ministry of Health’s teams had mobilized their medical teams and put them on alert for any emergencies.
Maj. Gen. Khaled Al-Mahmmadi, commander of security forces at the Jamarat bridge, said security officers prevented pilgrims from sleeping on the streets. Over 13,000 officers organized the movement of pilgrims inside Al-Jamarat building and the roads leading it to, Maj. Gen. Al-Mahmmadi added.
Maj. Gen. Muhammad Al-Qarni, commander of Civil Defense forces, said the movement of pilgrims was smooth and no emergency cases were registered during the stoning ritual.
Maj. Gen. Abdul Rahman Al-Moqbil, assistant commander of Haj security officers in charge of traffic affairs, said the movement of pilgrims from Mina to the Grand Mosque was very smooth. Regarding the traffic plan at Al-Moaisim area near Mina, he said “we’ll continue to prevent vehicles from stopping on either side of the street or double-parking.”
Brig. Mishal Al-Maghrabi, Director of Makkah Traffic Administration, said vehicles carrying pilgrims were not allowed to enter the Central Area near the Grand Mosque during peak hours while King Abdul Aziz Road was turned into a one-direction lane leading to the Grand Mosque. The same thing was done to other major roads leading to the Grand Mosque.
“We decided to turn all roads into one direction lanes because the majority of pilgrims will leave for Jeddah, Taif, or Madinah once they have performed tawaf at the Grand Mosque. We wanted to make sure that no traffic congestion takes place.”
Brig. Yehya Al-Zahrani, commander of the Grand Mosque security forces, said the organization plan helped pilgrims perform the final Haj rituals smoothly and with comfort. “Our surveillance cameras monitor the movement of pilgrims all over the Grand Mosque, especially the ground floor, the first floor, the roof, and the tawaf area. We can also see what is going on in the courtyards surrounding the Grand Mosque.”
Although huge crowds of pilgrims flocked into the Grand Mosque, security officers organized their movement and prevented any crowding, he added. Over 10,000 officers participated in the plan.
Brig. Saud Al-Otaibi, assistant commander of Haj security forces in charge of organizing the movement of pilgrims in Mina, said 13,717 officers focused on preventing any crowding in Mina and were able to manage the huge crowds of pilgrims.
Saudi Gazette report
Illegal Hajis bane of successful Haj: Emir
MINA – Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Emir of Makkah Region and the Chairman of the Central Haj Committee, admitted here Sunday that illegal pilgrims were the bane of an otherwise successful Haj season.
There were between 1,300,000-1,400,000 pilgrims with no Haj permits this year and they used services they were not entitled to, Prince Khaled said in a press conference.
Although the Central Department of Statistics and Information stated that 3,161,000 pilgrims performed Haj this year, there is other data based on the number of pilgrims who used the Jamarat Bridge on the first day of Eid Al-Adha, which shows that more than 3,657,000 pilgrims used the bridge, the Emir said.
This means that there is a huge difference in both statistics; the latter number is close to four million, he pointed out.
Unfortunately, this discrepancy in data shows that the number of pilgrims who performed Haj without permits was huge. These are the very pilgrims who sleep on the streets and result in many problems. Most of them are expatriates who live here, Prince Khaled said.
Regarding fencing the holy sites to prevent the entry of illegal pilgrims, Prince Khaled said the Council of Ministers approved a study to fence the sites and a Royal Decree was issued last Ramadan.
“If we can control the points of entry at Arafat, we’ll reduce the chances of pilgrims without Haj permits entering the holy sites. I announce that the study has been approved and we are going to implement it. We also have projects which we will implement immediately after Haj.”
He said penalties on illegal pilgrims were not properly implemented this year. Next year, penalties will be clearer and will be implemented sternly because illegal pilgrims affect the services provided to bona fide pilgrims. It also affects the entire Haj season and the services provided by the government, Prince Khaled said.
The Emir, however, said that despite the huge number of illegal pilgrims, this year’s Haj plan had been the most successful ever.
He said the real message the Kingdom wants to present through Haj is the fact that Islam is the religion of peace, love, and coexistence.
Regrettably, this message does not get enough focus.
The international media does not focus on the great message of Haj, the Emir noted.
“Haj committees don’t have to comment on everything the international media says. Sometimes there is false information. The most important thing is constructive criticism. We welcome it from everyone. We thank everyone who writes about us. If we want reform, we should start with ourselves first before reforming others. But if false and fabricated information seeks to distort the beautiful picture, it does not concern us,” he added.
Commenting on Haj packages, Prince Khaled said the Central Haj Committee would meet on Nov. 11 to assess the services provided to pilgrims and review the shortcomings.
When asked whether there was a management problem in operating the Mashair Train, the Emir said it was an operational problem. Any project takes time before it becomes complete.
Regarding the delay in transporting pilgrims at the terminals of the train station, Prince Khaled said there was a problem and a committee was formed to study it.
“We’re waiting for the results. I don’t know if we can call it an operational problem. But, no doubt, those responsible for the problem will be held accountable.