Two years ago construction on Islam's holiest site came to a grinding halt when a crane collapsed killing 107 pilgrims.

Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia September 27, 2014.
Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia September 27, 2014. (Reuters)

Work on the $26.6 billion expansion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca is set to resume next month, some two years after it was brought to an abrupt halt by a crane collapse that claimed the lives of 107 people.

The expansion by the Saudi Binladin Group will continue after the annual hajj pilgrimage ends at the beginning of September, and it will pay outstanding salaries owed to staff involved in the project beginning August 20, according to a notice that the company sent to banks.       

Banking and construction industry sources confirmed the plan. Saudi Binladin, one of the country's top construction conglomerates, and the Ministry of Finance were not immediately available to comment.       

Development of the Grand Mosque and its surrounding area to accommodate more worshipers was halted after the fatal construction accident in September 2015, and then remained on hold as government finances were squeezed by low oil prices.       

The government is now enjoying a moderate recovery in oil income, and it is keen to resume work on big religious tourism and infrastructure schemes as part of a drive to diversify the economy beyond oil exports.       

Temporarily banned

The plan to restart construction at the Grand Mosque is a fresh sign of the rehabilitation of Saudi Binladin, which was temporarily banned from winning new state contracts after the crane collapse and has been damaged financially by a deep slump in the construction sector.       

The Ministry of Finance has allocated a portion of this year's budget to key projects and has been in talks with Saudi Binladin in recent weeks about restarting several big schemes, the sources said. The ministry pledged to make payments that would enable Binladin to pay its staff, they said.       

Another stalled government project in which Saudi Binladin is involved, the $3.5 billion construction of the Abraj Kudai hotel complex in Mecca, will restart in coming months, sources told the Reuters news agency earlier this week.       

The company also restarted work earlier this year on the new King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah.       

Source: Reuters