HAJJ DOOM! Saudi Says It's Prepared To Handle Any Stampede Or Disease At Haj

MECCA (Reuters) - Saudi health officials overseeing the haj pilgrimage later this week say they are prepared to handle any outbreak of disease or a stampede like the one that killed hundreds of worshippers two years ago. Saudi Arabia said on Monday that over 1.735 million pilgrims have arrived from abroad for the ritual, a once-in-a-lifetime religious duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey. The world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims has in the past seen numerous deadly stampedes, fires and riots, with authorities having only limited ability to control the masses. Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites - Mecca and Medina - and organizing haj, a role that Iranian authorities have challenged as part of a dispute over the handling of a crush in 2015. That incident killed nearly 800 pilgrims, according to Riyadh, although counts by countries of repatriated bodies showed over 2,000 people may have died, more than 400 of them Iranians. Reuters>>>>>>