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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Watch: Saudi forces parade through Mecca ahead of Hajj

Between two and three million Muslims from around the world are expected to travel to the city for this year's annual pilgrimage, due to take place at the beginning of next month

It was the largest show of its military might since Mecca began holding its annual military parade years ago.

Saudi Arabia sent a clear message to the Muslim world late Wednesday, when thousands of the kingdom’s elite forces participated in a spectacular show of force during the Mecca Parade.

The event – held annually in the week leading to the beginning of the Hajj – saw elite troops marching in formation, as tanks rolled into the streets of Mecca and helicopters hovered over the parade.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was present at the parade, as were hundreds of spectators, who watched as soldiers took part in simulated training exercises and buildings burst into flames in the background.

The security and stability during Hajj is one of the country’s greatest concerns as millions of Muslims converge in the Holy City for the annual pilgrimage.

Between two and three million Muslims from around the world are expected to travel to Mecca for this year's Hajj, which will start next Wednesday.

Hundreds of millions more will tune in to their television sets to witness the holiest event on the Islamic Calendar.

Nearly 90,000 Iranians will be attending this year's Hajj, after Tehran boycotted the annual pilgrimage last year amid tensions with Riyadh.

Hajj has been previously marred by safety incidents including stampedes and fires, including a stampede in 2015 which killed more than 700 pilgrims.

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Read more:

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More than just a display of its latest arsenal and the prowess of its special and emergency forces, this year's parade was also an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to show off the ferocity of its riot police and internal security forces.

Interior minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud thanked the Saudi Crown Prince for “accepting to preside over this event, which indicates the readiness of the security forces to serve pilgrims, and our ability to protect their security and safety”.

He said the men were determined to perform their religious and national duties "with full recognition of the greatness of the responsibility at this place and time”.

For the first time since a diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and its neighbour Qatar erupted in June, the Saudi authorities opened the border crossing to let Qatari pilgrims in.

According to the Qatari Islamic affairs ministry, 20,000 Qatari citizens have registered to take part in this year's Hajj.

Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir has said that the kingdom “welcomes all Muslims from around the world who visit the country for their pilgrimage".