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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 15:13 GMT
40 die in Saudi Hajj crash
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Forty Muslim pilgrims travelling from the United Arab Emirates to Mecca for the annual Hajj - or pilgrimage - have been killed in a road accident in eastern Saudi Arabia.

The victims included 37 Pakistanis, one Saudi, one Egyptian and one Syrian, the official SPA news agency reported.

Hajj pilgrims in Mecca
Able-bodied Muslims are required to make the pilgrimage at least once
The accident occurred on the road leading from the Saudi-Emirates border in the eastern Al-Ihsaa province when the bus they were travelling in collided with a truck and caught fire.

Ten other people were injured in the accident and 12 passengers escaped uninjured.

Holy date announced

Meanwhile, the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council announced on Wednesday that the annual pilgrimage will climax on 21 February, ushering in the biggest Muslim holiday of the year, the Eid Al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice), the next day.

"It has been proved by fair witnesses that the new moon was born during the night on Tuesday, which means that Wednesday is the start of the month of Zulhijjah (the pilgrimage month)," the council said

On 21 February more than 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to gather on Mount Arafat, a hill some 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) west of Mecca, where the Prophet Mohammed delivered his last sermon 14 centuries ago.

Religious duty

The Hajj to Mecca - birthplace of Islam's seventh century prophet Mohammed and home of Islam's holiest shrine - is one of the pillars of Islam.

Muslims who are able-bodied and can afford the journey are obliged to do it at least once in their lifetime.

More than 945,000 pilgrims from outside of Saudi Arabia have already arrived in the kingdom.

Hundreds of thousands more are expected to arrive before the 17 February deadline.

See also:

09 Feb 02 | Middle East
Hajj 'will not be anti-US'
08 Feb 02 | Middle East
Eye-scanners installed for Hajj security
07 Feb 02 | South Asia
Stranded pilgrims fly out of Dhaka
05 Mar 01 | Middle East
Hajj perils, ancient and modern
10 Feb 00 | Middle East
What is the Hajj?
30 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
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