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1,300-plus Hajj pilgrims die as Saudi Arabia blames heat

File photo shows pilgrims performing religious rites around Kaaba in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has put the death toll during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage to at least 1,301 so far, blaming intense heat for the majority of the cases.

Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel offered the toll on Sunday.

He claimed that “83 percent of the deceased were unauthorized pilgrims, who walked long distances under direct sunlight, without adequate shelter." Around half of the victims belonged to Egypt.

Some countries, from which this year’s Hajj pilgrims hailed, are continuing to update their tolls.

Al-Jalajel, however, described the kingdom’s management of the pilgrimage this year as "successful," the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

"The health system addressed numerous cases of heat stress this year, with some individuals still under care," he said.

The minister also alleged that "among the deceased were several elderly and chronically ill individuals."

Speaking on Friday, a senior Saudi official likewise defended Riyadh’s performance, saying, "The state did not fail, but there was a misjudgment on the part of people who did not appreciate the risks."

Hajj pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam. It consists of a series of religious rites that are completed over five days in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, and surrounding areas of western Saudi Arabia.

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