Over a million pilgrims pack Mount Arafat for climax of biggest covid-era Hajj

News Network
July 8, 2022

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Mount Arafat, July 8: Huge crowds of robed Muslim pilgrims prayed on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat on Friday, the climax of the biggest Hajj pilgrimage since the pandemic forced drastic cuts in numbers two years in a row.

Groups of worshippers, many holding umbrellas against the fierce sun, recited verses from the Qur'an on the rocky rise, where the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have given his final sermon.

Prayers on Mount Arafat, also known as the “Mount of Mercy,” are the highlight of the pilgrimage, capped this year at one million people including 850,000 from abroad after Covid greatly reduced numbers over 2020 and 2021.

Pilgrims, many of them in simple white robes and chanting “Oh God, here I am,” reached Mount Arafat on foot or in buses from the tents nearby where they spent the night.

After sunset, they will journey the short distance to Muzdalifah, where they will sleep under the stars before performing the symbolic “stoning of the devil” ceremony on Saturday.

“I am so happy to be here, like everyone else. This is the biggest Hajj in the coronavirus era, but it isn’t big enough yet,” Egyptian pilgrim Saad Farhat Khalil, 49, said.

“There are one million here today, but if the Saudis allowed more, 10 million would have came,” he added.

Entry roads were packed with worshippers as helicopters buzzed overhead and volunteers handed out bottles of water and collected rubbish in green plastic bags.

“Let’s keep the purest of all lands clean,” read a sign on a large garbage container.

The Hajj, usually one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is among the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.

In 2019, as in previous years, some 2.5 million Muslims from around the world took part, a figure that dropped to a few thousand in 2020 and 60,000 in 2021.

Even though the crowds are back, Covid fears remain and the Hajj is taking place against the backdrop of a resurgence in the region, with some Gulf countries tightening restrictions to keep outbreaks in check.

All participants were required to submit proof of full vaccination and negative PCR tests. On reaching their white-tent encampment at Mina on Thursday, they were handed small bags containing masks and sanitiser.

The pilgrimage can be physically draining even in ideal conditions, but worshippers this year have faced an added challenge: scorching sun and temperatures rising to 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit).

Islam forbids men from wearing hats once the rites start, and many have been seen shielding themselves with umbrellas, prayer mats and even, in one case, a small bucket filled with water.

Women, meanwhile, are obliged to cover their heads with scarves.

“We can tolerate (the heat). We are here for the Hajj. The more we tolerate, the more our pilgrimage is accepted,” Laila, a 64-year-old Iraqi pilgrim who gave only her first name, told AFP in Makkah, where the rituals started.

Saudi officials have touted their preparations for the extreme conditions, highlighting the hundreds of hospital beds allocated for heatstroke patients and the “large number of misting fans” they have provided.

A truck has also been allocated to distribute umbrellas, water bottles and small fans.

Nevertheless, the National Center for Meteorology, which has set up an office in Mina, is sending warnings to pilgrims on their mobile phones, urging them to avoid outdoor rituals at certain times of the day, especially at noon.

On Saturday, Muslim pilgrims will take part in the “stoning,” the last major ritual of the Hajj which has previously led to deadly stampedes, as hundreds of thousands of participants converge on a small space.

After the stoning ritual, pilgrims return to the Grand Mosque in Makkah to perform a final “tawaf” or circling of the Kaaba, the cubic structure draped in a gold-embroidered black cloth that is the focal point of Islam.

Eid Al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice that begins on Saturday, marks the end of Hajj.

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News Network
February 2,2023

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Israel has carried out new airstrikes against several areas across the Gaza Strip, triggering retaliatory rocket fire from Palestinian resistance groups based in the besieged enclave.

Israeli warplanes pounded targets in the center of Gaza City on Thursday, Palestinian media outlets reported, adding that the resistance groups’ anti-aircraft defense systems intercepted the regime’s fighter jets.

The Israeli military claimed in a statement that it struck a weapons manufacturing site belonging to the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas in the central Gaza Strip after confirming that it is “striking in” the coastal enclave.

It further said the strikes came in response to a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip into Israeli communities a day earlier.

Local sources and witnesses said that the first Israeli strike – out of at least seven – hit a training center belonging to the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.

A second round of Israeli airstrikes targeted the resistance’s training center southwest of Gaza City, they added.

In response, the resistance groups fired a barrage of retaliatory rockets at illegal Israeli settlements surrounding the besieged Gaza Strip. Rocket sirens blared in the town of Sderot following the strikes, according to the Israeli military.  

The latest development comes almost a week after the Israeli military pounded areas west and south of Gaza, including posts belonging to the Palestinian resistance.

The strikes were carried out after at least 10 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, including a 61-year-old woman.

Last Thursday, more than 70 Israeli armed vehicles and hundreds of the regime’s soldiers stormed Jenin and the neighboring refugee camp, while Israeli snipers were deployed on rooftops and heavily armed soldiers opened fire at Palestinian youths who tried to block their way. Ten Palestinians were killed in the attack. 

Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad resistance movement vowed to respond to the raid.

According to reports, more than 30 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of 2023. 

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News Network
January 25,2023

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Bengaluru, Jan 25: Supporters of Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Karnataka protested against the release of Shah Rukh Khan’s newly-released movie Pathaan. Several supporters came out on streets with banners and posters demanding a boycott of the film. This comes hours after the VHP spokesperson earlier in the day said they will not oppose the film “for the time being”. 

“Keeping our earlier objections in mind, changes made in the film are correct. After watching the film, if we find anything objectionable, then we'll reconsider opposing the film,” VHP spokesperson Shriraj Nair said. 

On Tuesday, the VHP’s Gujarat unit had also withdrawn its protest against the film expressing satisfaction over removal of “objectionable” contents from the film. 

The film came under fire by the right wing groups for featuring actor Deepika Padukone in a saffron bikini in the song ‘Besharam Rang’. Several leaders, including from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had sought a ban on the film, which is scheduled to release on Wednesday.

The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has revised the "obscene song" and "lewd words" in the film and hence the right-wing groups will no longer protest against its release, the Gujarat VHP's secretary Ashok Raval said in a statement.

Talking to news agency PTI, Raval claimed that in its recent circular, the censor board has made 40 to 45 corrections regarding songs, colour and clothes, which resolve the issues and hence, they no longer need to protest.

The right-wing groups had earlier threatened to stop the release of the film in Gujarat, while the state government had assured police protection to theatres following a representation made by multiplex owners.

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News Network
February 6,2023

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Tumakuru, Feb 6: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday inaugurated the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's helicopter factory -- the country's largest chopper manufacturing facility -- in Tumakuru district of Karnataka. Bengaluru-headquartered HAL plans to produce more than 1,000 helicopters in the range of 3-15 tonne with a total business of more than Rs 4 lakh crore over a period of 20 years at this facility in Gubbi taluk, officials said.

The factory, spread across 615 acres for which the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone in 2016, would initially manufacture Light Utility Helicopters (LUH)). It will enable India to meet its entire requirement of helicopters without import and giving much-needed fillip to the Prime Minister's vision of 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' in helicopter design, development, and manufacture, they said.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and senior officials of Ministry of Defence were among those present on the occasion. "It is a dedicated new greenfield helicopter factory which will enhance India's capacity and ecosystem to build helicopters," Singh said. Assembly polls in Karnataka are due by May. PM Modi unveiled the LUH, which has been flight tested.

The LUH is an indigenously designed and developed three-tonne class, single-engine multipurpose utility helicopter. Initially, the factory will produce around 30 helicopters per year and can be enhanced to 60 and then 90 every year in a phased manner, according to the Defence Ministry. The factory will be augmented to produce other helicopters such as Light Combat Helicopters (LCHs) and Indian Multirole Helicopters (IMRHs).

It will also be used for maintenance, repair and overhaul of LCH, LUH, Civil Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and IMRH in the future. Potential exports of civil LUH will also be catered to from this factory, which is being equipped with state-of-the-art Industry 4.0 standard tools and techniques for its operations, officials said.

The proximity of the factory, with the existing HAL facilities in Bengaluru, will boost the aerospace manufacturing ecosystem in the region and support skill and infrastructure development such as schools, colleges and residential areas, it was noted. The factory is fully operational after the establishment of facilities like heli-runway, flight hangar, final assembly hangar, structure assembly hangar, air traffic control and various supporting service facilities, officials said.

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