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More than 700 pilgrims die in the worst Hajj disaster in 25 years

At least 717 people have been killed in a crush at Mina, outside the holy city of Mecca, where some two million people are performing the annual hajj pilgrimage.

A civil defence authority said at least 805 people were also injured in the crush caused by large numbers of people gathering at Mina.

Thursday's disaster was the worst to befall the annual hajj since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a tunnel near Mecca.

The stampede took place on Street 204 of the camp city at Mina during the ritual known as "stoning the devil." Mina houses more than 160,000 tents where pilgrims spend the night during the pilgrimage.

Street 204 is one of two main roads leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat, where pilgrims ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars.

About 4,000 personnel are handling the incident using more than 220 ambulances and equipment, and civil defence teams are directing the hajis to alternative streets, according to the Saudi Gazette.

"Work is underway to separate large groups of people and direct pilgrims to alternative routes," the Saudi Civil Defence said on its Twitter account.

Thursday is also Eid al-Adha, when Muslims slaughter a sheep. It has traditionally been the most dangerous day of hajj because large numbers of pilgrims attempt to perform rituals at the same time in a single location.

The number of Muslims making the annual pilgrimage has grown, placing increasing strain on the Saudi authorities. Thursday’s stampede is likely to intensify fears that Mecca doesn't have the proper transportation and infrastructure for such a large human migration.

Hajj pilgrimage, the world's largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of deadly stampedes in the past, killing hundreds of pilgrims. The last major incident in hajj took place in 2006, when at least 346 pilgrims were killed as they attempted to perform the stoning of the devil at Jamarat.

In the ritual, crowds of pilgrims throw stones at three pillars, in a re-enactment of an event when Prophet Abraham stoned the devil and rejected his temptations, according to Muslim traditions.

Infrastructure upgrades and extensive spending on crowd control technology over the past two decades have made such incidents far less common.

The hajj pilgrimage is a religious duty for Muslims to complete – one of the five pillars of Islam – at least once. The rituals involved in the pilgrimage are intended to cleanse the soul and promote the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood within Islam.

Weeks before hajj, a construction crane collapsed during a storm and toppled into the Grand Mosque killing 111 people and injuring more than 390.

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