A bridge above

A bridge above
A general view shows the new raised walkway installed around the Kabba (top-R) so people with disabilities can circle around the holy shrine to perform the Tawaf, which is part of the hajj pilgrimage, in Mecca's Grand Mosque on October 8, 2013. More than two million Muslims have arrived in the holy city for the annual hajj pilgrimage which begins October 13 amid concerns over the deadly MERS coronavirus.

It comes as a big relief for the elderly and pilgrims in wheelchairs.

The new Mataf bridge in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, can hold about 7,000 wheelchairs per hour. The bridge around the Kaabah, the structure towards which Muslims pray, is for the exclusive use of the disabled and elderly pilgrims during the annual Haj.

Mataf refers to the open white area immediately around the Kaabah where the tawaf (pilgrims circling the Kaaba) takes place.

The Haj Ministry's spokesman Hatim Qadi told Arab News: "Since the bridge would be set apart for the weak, infirm and disabled pilgrims, the movement of able-bodied pilgrims on the ground floor will become easier as that area will be free from wheelchairs that used to clutter an already crowded area." The bridge is 12m wide and 13m high.

This year, the pilgrimage starts on Sunday and ends on Oct 18.

The presidency of the Two Holy Mosques has provided 12,000 standard wheelchairs and 110 electric wheelchairs free of charge for the pilgrims to move inside the mosque.

"A number of volunteers are also ready to push wheelchairs around the clock," said the Grand Mosque's wheelchairs administration director Muslih Al-Mahmadi.

TO BE EXPANDED

The temporary bridge would soon be expanded to two levels.

The Mataf expansion is expected to be completed by 2015.

"I like the new bridge," said Mr Kerim Ahmet, an elderly Turkish pilgrim who performed the tawaf in a wheelchair on the bridge.

"It makes it easier for pilgrims (on foot) to circle the Kaabah without the fear of being knocked by a wheelchair from behind."

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, announced high-tech security plans on Wednesday for the Haj.

More than 95,000 security personnel will be deployed to prevent terror attacks, according to the Saudi Press Agency. And about 4,000 closedcircuit television cameras have been installed to monitor the movement of the pilgrims.

Last year, a total of 3.2 million faithfuls, including 1.75 million foreigners, performed the pilgrimage, Middle East online reported.

This year, about 2 million are expected after Saudi Arabia announced a crackdown on illegal pilgrims. It also cut foreigners' quota by 20 per cent and Saudis by 50 per cent.

The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam that should be performed at least once in a lifetime by every Muslim who is financially and physically capable.


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