By Andy Sambidge
Statistics show that 2.93m pilgrims visit Makkah this year compared to 2.79m in 2010
The number of hajj pilgrims visiting the Saudi Arabian holy city of Makkah this year increased by five percent compared to last year, official statistics showed on Sunday.
Muhanna bin Abdulkareem Almuhanna, the director general of Saudi Arabia's General Statistics and Information, said the number of pilgrims this year reached 2.93m compared to 2.79m last year, Saudi Press Agency reported.
Out of the total, 1.83m of pilgrims came from outside the kingdom, the figures showed.
As one of Islam's five pillars, the hajj is enjoined on all Muslims who are physically able to carry it out.
Dr Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabiah, Saudi Arabia's minister of health, told SPA that the general health of the pilgrims was "reassuring", adding that "no epidemic cases have been reported until now".
In a statement, he said that health facilities in Mina, in addition to 17 emergency centres spread over the Jamarat Bridge and five stations in the Grand Mosque of Makkah.
This year the pilgrimage follows uprisings across the Arab world and growing tensions between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite power Iran.
Home to Islam's holiest sites, Saudi Arabia regards itself as the guardian of Islam and assumes the responsibility of maintaining a peaceful hajj season when Muslims from various sects gather at the same place and time.
Although hajj starts on the eighth day of the lunar month of Dhul Hijja, which fell this year on Friday, most pilgrims come earlier to visit the holy mosques in Makkah and nearby Madinah, where the prophet Muhammad was buried over 1,400 years ago.
Saudi authorities have spent freely to avoid any repeat of the deadly incidents which marred hajj seasons in the past such as fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and stampedes.