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File picture: Muslim pilgrims pray as they watch thousands of pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba. Makkah was lashed by torrential rains on Friday, causing flash floods that submerged cars. There were no casualties. Image Credit: AP

Cairo: Access of pilgrims performing Umrah by circumambulating the Kaaba in Makkah has been halted due to heavy rains, an official said.

Makkah was lashed by torrential rains on Friday, causing flash floods that submerged cars. There were no casualties.

“A plan has been drawn up to preserve safety of Umrah worshippers during the rain,” said Riad Al Hazami, a deputy head of crowd management at the Grand Mosque, which houses the Kaaba.

He told Saudi television Al Ekhbariya that pilgrim groupings at the courtyard, where the circumbulation ritual takes place, had been suspended. “They were transferred to circumbulation sites on the ground and first floors of the mosque,” he added.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has unveiled a set of facilities for Muslims wishing to perform umrah at the Grand Mosque and visit religious sites in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia issued four million visas for overseas Muslims to perform Umrah since the start of the current season in July, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said this month.

The issuance has come as part of the ministry’s efforts in partnership with other sectors in Saudi Arabia to facilitate umrah pilgrims’ arrival and have access to high-quality services.

Muslims holding different types of entry visas such as the personal, visit and tourism visas are allowed to undertake umrah in the Grand Mosque and visit Al Rawda Al Sharifa, where the tomb of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) is located at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madina after booking an e-appointment.

Saudi Arabia has recently launched an electronic platform, designed to facilitate access to umrah services including visits to the holy cities of Makkah and Madina.

The platform enables Muslims wishing to undertake Umrah or visit the holy sites to obtain the necessary visas and permits as well as to book related packages electronically.

Saudi authorities have also extended Umrah visa from 30 days to 90 and allowed holders to enter the kingdom via all land, air and sea outlets.

Saudi Arabia said earlier this month that its citizens can apply to invite their friends abroad to visit the kingdom and undertake Umrah.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said citizens can apply for the personal visit visa via its e-visa platform, allowing the holder to perform Uumrah and move across the kingdom including the religious and historical sites.