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Haj: change coming

Studies are under way to set up 60,000 fireproof tents in Arafat at a cost of SR 2 billion, and expand Mina to house seven million pilgrims as part of government’s efforts to improve services to the guests of God, Arab News reported on Tuesday. Interior Minister Prince Muhammad bin Naif has instructed the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs to conduct studies on setting up permanent fireproof tents in Arafat, prepare its designs and estimate its cost.

Habib Zain Al-Abideen, deputy minister for municipal and rural affairs and supervisor of the center for development projects, said the ministry received the prince’s instruction about 10 days ago. “A high-level committee including officials from the Haj Ministry, Public Security and Civil Defense will meet on April 27 to discuss the project,” Zain Al-Abideen said.

The project is estimated to cost more than SR 2 billion and will take three years to complete, according to a source. “The project will help get rid of cotton tents and ensure high-quality services for pilgrims,” he added. The Finance Ministry is currently studying new pilgrim service projects worth SR 12.6 billion, including a railway project valued at SR 5 billion and a SR 5 billion tunnel project linking Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat.

Meanwhile, the National Committee for Haj & Umrah said the shifting of government offices from Mina would create space for more than 30,000 pilgrims in the tent valley this year. “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has ordered removal of some 50 government offices from Mina,” said Osama Felali, chairman of the committee, adding that they would be shifted to Aziziya.

Mina, located 7 km northeast of the Grand Mosque, is surrounded by mountains in north and south. “Efforts are under way to expand Mina to accommodate 7 million pilgrims in the future,” said Saad Al-Joudi, an expert. He said Mina expansion would cover construction of tents on top of mountains. There are plans to construct multistory buildings in the valley to accommodate additional numbers of pilgrims saying it would create millions of square kilometers. The creation of more space in Mina would help introduce low-cost pilgrim services, he added. ARAB NEWS

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