Death toll in Mecca stampede rises to 717 pilgrims
At least 717 pilgrims have been killed in a stampede in Mecca as millions of Muslims travel to Saudi Arabia as part of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
The stampede reportedly broke out in Mina located in the neighborhood of Mecca in Makkah Province, in western Saudi Arabia.
At least 717 hajj pilgrims were killed and 805 reportedly injured, reports Saudi news source Al Arabiya which quotes a Saudi Civil Defence source on the situation.
Reuters is also confirming the deaths, citing reports by Saudi Arabia's al-Ekhbariya television channel.
The pilgrimage, the world's largest annual gathering of people, has been the scene of deadly disasters in the past, including stampedes, tent fires and riots.
The last major incident in haj took place in 2006, when at least 346 pilgrims were killed as they attempted to perform the stoning of the devil at Jamarat.
However, massive infrastructure upgrades and extensive spending on crowd control technology over the past two decades had made such events far less common.
Street 204 is one of the two main arteries leading through the camp at Mina to Jamarat, where pilgrims ritually stone the devil by hurling pebbles at three large pillars.
Reuters reporters in another part of Mina said they could hear police and ambulance sirens, but that roads leading to the site of the disaster had been blocked to prevent a further crowds developing.
It said more than 220 ambulances and 4,000 rescue workers had been sent to the stampede's location to help the wounded. Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television channel showed a convoy of ambulances driving through the Mina camp.
"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 vast numbers of pilgrims attempt to perform rituals at the same time in a single location.
The deaths come two weeks after at least 111 pilgrims were killed when a giant construction crane collapsed on the roof of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Saudi Arabia has partly blamed the construction giant Saudi Binladin Group for the collapse of a crane.
The crash came just days before millions arrive in the kingdom for the pilgrimage, which is required at least once in the life of every able-bodied Muslim.
Such disasters are politically sensitive for the kingdom's ruling Al Saud dynasty, which presents itself internationally as the guardians of orthodox Islam and custodians of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina.
King Salman, like his predecessors, is officially styled "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques".