SHAFAQNA -Â At least 717 people taking part in the Hajj pilgrimage have been killed in a stampede near the Islamic holy city of Mecca, officials in Saudi Arabia say.
Another 863 people were injured in the incident at Mina, which occurred as two million pilgrims were taking part in the Hajj’s last major rite.
They converge on Mina to throw stones at pillars representing the devil.
Preparations for the Hajj were marred when a crane collapsed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque this month, killing 109 people.
It is the deadliest incident to occur during the Hajj in 25 years.
Pilgrims travel to Mina, a large valley about 5km (3 miles) from Mecca, during the Hajj to throw seven stones at pillars called Jamarat, which represent the devil. The pillars stand at three spots where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.
The Saudi civil defence directorate said in a statement that the stampede occurred at around 06:00 (09:00 GMT) at the junction of Street 204 and Street 223, as pilgrims walked towards the five-storey structure which surrounds the pillars, known as the Jamarat Bridge.
The incident happened when there was a “sudden increase” in the number of pilgrims heading towards the pillars, the statement said.
This “resulted in a stampede among the pilgrims and the collapse of a large number of them”, it added.
Security personnel and the Saudi Red Crescent were “immediately” deployed to prevent more people heading towards the area, the directorate said.
The Saudi health minister, Khaled al-Falih, said the crush occurred because pilgrims failed to follow directions.