Syrian pilgrims in Mecca protest against Bashar al-Assad's regime

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 3:55am

Saudi authorities quickly dispersed a protest by hundreds of Syrian pilgrims calling for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and denouncing what they said was an international failure to stop bloodshed in their country, witnesses said.

Protesters held up rebel flags and marched towards Jamarat Bridge in Mina, east of the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, where more than three million Muslim pilgrims congregated for the annual haj.

No one was hurt when two police vehicles drove slowly in the direction of the protesters with sirens on as the officers asked the crowd through loudspeakers to leave the area. The protesters dispersed and merged with thousands of other pilgrims in the area, a witness said.

Saudi officials made it clear in recent days that they wanted a politics-free pilgrimage.

The haj pilgrimage is one of the Muslim faith's so-called five pillars and a religious duty for all Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime, if they are capable. It started last Wednesday and ends tomorrow.

This year's haj took place amid divisions among Muslims, with Shi'ite Iran and US-allied Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar backing opposing sides in Syria's civil war.

Fighting raged across Syria and air raids struck near Damascus and in the north at the weekend after a ceasefire declared for a Muslim holiday collapsed, with at least 221 people killed since it was due to take effect.