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800,000 more pilgrims due this year after Makkah grand mosque expansion

A Saudi official welcomes Hajj pilgrims at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah. (SPA)
A helicopter patrols above the Grand Mosque for the security and safety of pilgrims. (SPA)
MAKKAH: Some 800,000 more pilgrims are expected this season following completion of expansion works at the Grand Mosque.
A report by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said this year’s Umrah season witnessed the arrival of some 7 million people.
The ministry is working with pilgrimage institutions to raise capacity for future Umrah and Hajj seasons, and to establish a modern hospitality industry in line with Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020.
The report cited infrastructure achievements in Makkah, Madinah and the holy sites to provide better services for pilgrims and visitors.
It also cited strategic initiatives launched by the ministry, such as the electronic observation and control center to connect pilgrim service centers with decision-makers and improve coordination between all parties involved in Hajj.
The report highlighted the ministry’s “Be Helpful” voluntary program, which is being implemented for the first time this Hajj season.
The program aims to serve pilgrims, develop services offered to pilgrims, and gauge the performance and effectiveness of voluntary work.
The report said the ministry is aware of the importance of enhancing the role of women in serving pilgrims via official and seasonal jobs.
Meanwhile, Salwa crossing on the Saudi-Qatari border continues to receive pilgrims, with Saudi authorities welcoming them and facilitating their entry.
The number of Qatari pilgrims reached 213 as of Saturday.
All pilgrims arriving from Qatar have their names registered at the crossing, and enter without the need for electronic permits.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) previously announced the dedication of seven flights to take Qatari pilgrims from Doha to Jeddah.
The CAA said the flights are scheduled for Aug. 22-25, with return flights on Sept. 5.
The director of passports at Salwa, Col. Hassan Al-Dussari, stressed the preparedness at the crossing to receive Qatari pilgrims, and said 11 counters have been dedicated to their service.

Committee formed to ensure pilgrim accommodation safety
Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz, deputy governor of the Makkah region, ordered the formation of a multilateral committee to ensure the safety of buildings dedicated to accommodating pilgrims.
The committee comprises representatives from the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the Civil Defense and Tawafa establishments, in cooperation with specialized technicians and engineers.
Prince Abdullah presided over a meeting of Tawafa and Zamazemah establishments, which was attended by Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Salih Bentin and heads of the institutions.
The deputy governor reviewed plans for this year’s Hajj season, which aim to serve more than 2.2 million pilgrims.
The role of these establishments in providing all services to pilgrims from arrival to departure was also discussed.
More than 2,600 employees work in Tawafa establishments in 497 offices, serving pilgrims from 162 countries.
16 aircraft to be deployed
during Hajj
Sixteen aircraft with state-of-the-art equipment will be deployed during Hajj, said Maj. Gen. Mohammed bin Eid Al-Harbi, commander of the General Air Force.
He made the announcement as he toured Madinah accompanied by representatives of security services.
He said the aircraft can monitor pilgrims’ movements, will know if they need assistance, and can identify infiltrators or those without Hajj permits.
Each aircraft is equipped with night-vision systems, thermal cameras, modern communications, and medical and ambulance equipment, Al-Harbi added. They will be staffed by crews with experience in past Hajj seasons. He said security aviation has different roles such as monitoring security and traffic situations from the air; sending immediate reports to the flight security operations center; passing information to the command and control center and the joint operations room; and intervening in case of accidents.
“The General Command of Air Aviation is ready to provide any support required by all parties participating in the service of pilgrims,” he added.

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