PLANS ARE AFOOT to upgrade and modernise the facilities in the holy city of Mecca to ease crowding during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs has invited tenders for the construction of the Jamarat terrace project at Mina, expected to cost up to US$1 billion. Plans for the initial phase call for three levels to accommodate about 2.8 million pilgrims throwing pebbles at the pillars of stone each day of the ritual. In the second stage, there will be 10 floors, to accommodate 5 million pebble-throwers per day. This project is not expected to be completed for several years. Another project under way to deal with stampeding in the area is the construction of three tunnels to ease crowding. No cars or other means of transport will be allowed access to these areas. Clinics that include operating rooms will be part of the construction. Muslims, as one of the obligations of their faith, are advised to make at least one trip in their lifetime to Mecca - a journey called the Hajj. During the climax of the pilgrimage every year, millions of pilgrims flock to the city. Tragedy often strikes when crowds of pilgrims jam the approach to the pillars of stone, which represent the devil. The site symbolically marks the spot where the devil appeared to Abraham. The pilgrims stone the pillars, or the devil - a traditional part of the Hajj for centuries. More than 240 pilgrims were trampled to death early this year. The Saudi Arabian government is committed to improving the situation. Besides efforts to ease crowding, it is pushing ahead with three projects in Mecca that affect the sacrificial aspect of the Hajj. One of these involves the dismantling of two abattoirs at Muzdalifa and the construction of new facilities at Moyssim, next to Mina, equipped with modern machines for waste disposal as well as skinning and butchering. Another project is to make these abattoirs accessible to pilgrims with the construction of six one-way pedestrian tunnels and four bridges to connect the new facilities with Jamarat. The third project involves constructing two road tunnels and two bridges to connect the Moyssim facilities with King Khaled Road.