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MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ A stampede broke out Monday during the annual hajj pilgrimage, killing 35 Muslims during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The news agency said 23 women and 12 men were killed and an unknown number of people were injured.

Security and safety have been major concerns at the hajj, as nearly 2 million Muslims from all over the world completed the annual pilgrimage that is a pillar of the Islamic faith.

The hajj, which began this weekend, must be performed once in a lifetime by every Muslim who is able to do so.

The ``stoning the devil'' has been a source of tragedy in the past. A 1998 stampede killed 180 people. A 1997 fire in Mina, the city where the stoning takes place, tore through the sprawling, overcrowded tent city, trapping and killing more than 340 pilgrims and injuring 1,500. In 1994, a stampede killed 270 pilgrims. The most deadly hajj-related tragedy was a 1990 stampede in which 1,426 pilgrims were killed.

Pilgrims come to Mina from Mecca to cast pebbles the size of chickpeas at three columns of stone that symbolize the devil as they chant, ``In the name of God, God is great.''

The pillars symbolizing the devil are at the center of giant ramps built to accommodate the huge crowds of pilgrims who must complete the ritual by dusk. Muslim tradition says it was here that the devil tried to tempt the Prophet Abraham to disobey God by refusing to sacrifice his son, a legend common to Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

According to tradition, God instructed Abraham to sacrifice a sheep instead, and Muslims around the world now follow suit, sacrificing camels and cattle to mark Eid al-Adha, or feast of sacrifice.

Once they complete the stoning ritual, pilgrims shave or clip their hair and then slaughter more than a half million camels, cows and sheep near Mina, a tent city that only comes to life during the hajj.

The hajj peaked on Sunday with prayers on Mount Arafat, a hill outside the holy city of Mecca where the Prophet Mohammed delivered his last sermon in 632.