PV International Desk : More than two million Muslims from around the world will start the hajj pilgrimage at Islam’s holiest sites Wednesday, a religious duty and an epic multi-stage journey.
This year sees pilgrims from Shiite Iran return after a hiatus following a diplomatic spat between the Islamic republic and Sunni arch-rival Saudi Arabia.
It also comes with the Gulf mired in political crisis and Islamic State group jihadists under pressure in Iraq and Syria.
Saudi authorities have mobilised vast resources in hope of avoiding a repeat of a deadly 2015 stampede that left nearly 2,300 people dead, including 464 Iranians.
Riyadh and Tehran cut ties months later, after the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia sparked attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.
The pilgrimage also comes amid a diplomatic crisis between a Saudi-led bloc of Arab countries and Qatar, accused of supporting extremist groups and being too close to Riyadh’s arch-rival Tehran.
A blockade imposed on Qatar since June 5 has seen sea and air links shut down, preventing many Qataris from making hajj, although Riyadh relaxed entry restrictions across its land border with the emirate two weeks before the pilgrimage.