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Saudi Hajj disaster toll rises higher with Iran’s 465 dead

The death toll in the Saudi Hajj disaster rose sharply as Iran announced 465 of its pilgrims died in last week’s stampede and crush, nearly doubling its earlier count and likely further straining relations between the two Mideast rivals.

And while Saudi officials previously said the tragedy killed 769 pilgrims, an Associated Press count based on official figures from countries around the world shows at least 999 people perished near Islam’s holy city of Mecca.

The total figure could be even larger as the AP survey covered only 15 of the more than 180 countries that sent some 2 million pilgrims to the annual pilgrimage, a pillar of Islamic faith.

Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Iran all have said the toll may be higher than what the kingdom has presented.

Faisal Alzahrani, the Saudi Health Ministry’s general director of communications, told the AP late last night that his office’s figure of 769 killed and 934 injured in Mina remained accurate.

He has said civil defense authorities would announce future totals as Saudi authorities continue to investigate the cause of the disaster.

Among all countries, Shi`ite power Iran appears for now to have lost the most pilgrims. According to the AP count, nearly 600 people from around the world remain missing in Saudi Arabia after the September 24 disaster.

The Iranian state news agency IRNA published a list last night of the 465 pilgrims it said died at Mina.

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