Dozens reported killed in Mecca hotel collapse

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The Independent Online

A hotel at the gates to Mecca's Islamic shrines in Saudi Arabia collapsed today as millions of Muslims gathered in their holiest city for the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Pan-Arab satellite television broadcasters reported dozens were killed or injured.

The television reports said the Louloat al-Kheir, while security officials said the Al-Ghaza Hotel had collapsed.

The tragedy occurred early afternoon local time.

Millions of Muslim faithful are flooding into Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage that climaxes on Monday with the Eid al-Adha, a four-day feast.

Islam's five pillars demand that followers profess there is one God and Mohammed is His prophet, pray five times daily, give alms, fast daily during the holy month of Ramadan and - if financially able - travel to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

The number of pilgrims to Mecca has increased eleven-fold over the past 15 years. During that time, the Saudi government spent billions of dollars to improve accommodation, transportation and medical facilities for the "guests of Allah."

The massive gathering has been hit with tragedies frequently in recent years.

The worst hajj-related tragedy occurred in 1990 when 1,426 pilgrims were killed in a stampede in an overcrowded pedestrian tunnel leading to holy sites in Mecca.

In 2004, on the final day of the ceremonies, 251 people were trampled to death when the crowd panicked during the ritual stoning of the devil. Three years earlier, 35 hajj pilgrims were killed in stampede the same ceremony.

In 1998, about 180 pilgrims were trampled to death when panic erupted after several of them fell off an overpass during the ritual. Four years earlier, in 1994, some 270 pilgrims killed in a stampede during the stoning ritual.