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Saudi Arabia deploys drones to watch over Haj pilgrims

Muslim pilgrims leave after prayers at Namira Mosque in Arafat during the annual haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca. Photograph: (Reuters)

WION Muzdalifa, Mecca, Makkah Province, Saudi Arabia Sep 12, 2016, 05.42 AM (IST)
Saudi Arabia has stepped up its efforts to guard Islam's holiest sites as the annual Haj pilgrimage enters its final stages.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of last year's devastating stampede, the Saudi authorities have redesigned parts of the Jamarat area and deployed drones to watch over nearly two million pilgrims. 

The faithful descended Mount Arafat on Sunday, climbing down the craggy hills outside Mecca at sunset and set out en masse for the open plateau of Muzdalifah.

There they collected pebbles in the dark before retreating for the night into Mina, the narrow city of air-conditioned white tents where last year's crush occurred.

The Saudi government has spent billions of dollars upgrading the security apparatus, expanding infrastructure and crowd control technology. 

Drones are being used to reinforce a network of electronic surveillance of the crowds that would alert authorities to intervene quickly if necessary.

The frequent disasters at the holy site have led to an escalating war of words with Iran. 

Iran supreme leader had accused the Saudi authorities of the deaths of over 2,000 pilgrims last year. 

Pilgrims of Iran are not attending the pilgrimage this year over safety concerns. 

But Saudi government had suggested part of the blame lied with the pilgrims that failed to follow crowd control rules. 

An investigation into last year's disaster is still pending. 

(WION with inputs from agencies)
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