JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia on Friday (Saturday in Manila) banned the slaughter of camels during this year’s hajj pilgrimage, after a surge in deaths from the MERS virus linked to the animals. Camels will not be allowed to enter the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, the Permanent Committee for Fatwa said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Only sheep and cows will be allowed. As part of the hajj rituals, pilgrims traditionally slaughter animals and give the meat to the needy. Hundreds of thousands of faithful from around the world have begun to gather for the annual hajj, which is expected to begin on September 21. The Ministry of Health on Friday reported three new cases, bringing to 1,231 the number of infections since MERS was first identified in the kingdom in 2012. There have been 521 deaths, including 19 in one week during late August.