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Record number of Omanis to perform pilgrimage
Muscat, Feb 19th, 2001

A record number of pilgrims from the Sultanate of Oman are expected to perform Haj in Saudi Arabia early next month, Gulf News learnt here yesterday. The Saudi embassy has extended by two days the granting of Haj visas for those going to the Kingdom by road, while air travelers have four days at their disposal to complete the formalities.

"Today was the last day for visas for resident expatriates going by road, but we have extended it by two days to cope with the growing rush of applicants," an embassy official told this correspondent. Last year, he added, more than 7,000 visas were issued and the figure is going to be bigger this time, although there are more restrictions than before on expatriates here on a visit visa wanting to go for Haj. "We are doing our best to help the faithful perform Haj."

Most of the people are going by road via the UAE and in groups. The result is that the road transport business is flourishing. The state-run Oman National Transport Co (ONTC) is plying thirty 49-seater luxury coaches on the route, with the last one due to depart after two days. "We are already fully booked," said Ramazan bin Jan Mohammed Al Zedjali, ONTC's transport manager.

The return fare by luxury coach is RO110, but the ONTC is also offering a complete package of 345 riyals which includes boarding, lodging, and other allied Haj expenses, but not counting the price of  animal to be slaughtered to mark Eid Al Adha. Transporters belonging to the private sector are vying with each other to woo customers. Charges vary from 70 riyals to 40 riyals.

Gulf Air, which is partly owned by Oman, is flying only to Jeddah, as usual, but has spared three of its aircraft, two of which are wide-bodied, for chartered Haj flights arranged by some Omani entrepreneurs, including Salim bin Said bin Salim Al Hakmani. "Both our chartered flights are fully booked for Madinah", said Al Hakmani. The package costs 550 riyals. The first chartered flight is to leave on Thursday, Feb. 22, and the second on February 27.

Oman Air, the Sultanate's national carrier, has come out with a special Haj fare to Jeddah of 263 riyals valid for two months, as against 215 riyals for 14 days only. An official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Awqaf, when approached, said some 13,000 Omanis are expected to perform this year's Haj. Omanis don't need visas to enter Saudi Arabia.

Already, a high-level, well-equipped advance mission, including doctors, nurses, Royal Oman Police personnel, journalists and scouts, have reached Saudi Arabia to serve Omani pilgrims and those from other countries, in co-ordination with the Saudi authorities, in order to make the task of the two parties easier, according to an official announcement published by local newspapers yesterday

Source: Gulf News 

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19 February 2001 02:57:59 PM

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