Badea Abu Al-Naja, Arab News
Published — Sunday 2 December 2007
Last Update 2 December 2007 3:00 am
MAKKAH, 2 December 2007 — Makkah police have set up 69 checkpoints on various roads leading to the holy city with the aim of closing every likely entry routes used by the unlicensed and illegally arriving pilgrims.
The move follows the finding that a major cause for excessive crowds that upset Haj plans in the holy sites over the past years has been the influx of unlicensed or overstaying Umrah pilgrims (pilgrims that came for Umrah recently and stayed to perform Haj illegally).
The Ministry of Haj has discovered 20 dirt roads that provide cover for the illegal and unlicensed pilgrims to sneak into Makkah unnoticed.
The Saudi Geological Survey helped the Haj Ministry and Public Security supplying them with detailed maps to locate the secret entry points and the dirt roads so that the police may set up checkpoints there as well.
According to the ministry, it is the responsibility of the Passport Department to intercept the illegally arriving pilgrims and thus guarantee that only those with official Haj permits enter Makkah during the season.
On the other hand, ministry officials and Makkah police tackle the illegally overstaying pilgrims within the city limits. If any Haj establishment is found to be providing accommodation for illegal pilgrims in its tents at the holy sites, that establishment is penalized.
Meanwhile, the Traffic Department announced that in the first stage of the Haj season beginning on Tuesday, Dec. 4, no cars would be allowed to enter the Central Zone (the roads surrounding the Grand Mosque) an hour before and after the obligatory prayers. There will be 12 checkpoints to divert the cars and other vehicles trying to enter the zone during these hours.
Col. Ahmad Al-Otaiby, director of the Makkah Traffic Administration, said: “The checkpoints aim to ease the entry and exit of pedestrians to the Grand Mosque by keeping away the vehicles at peak hours.”
The officer said no change in the traffic directions on the roads was planned for this season except a ban on parking in the Central Zone. However, embarking and disembarking and loading and unloading would be allowed, he said. About 1,800 policemen with 56 officers have been assigned to implement this task, he added.