Egypt closes Rafah crossing behind last group of Hajj pilgrims
Published Saturday 05/10/2013 (updated) 07/10/2013 14:37
A Palestinian woman sits inside a bus before leaving the Rafah border
crossing for the annual hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, in the southern
Gaza Strip, Oct. 2, 2013. (Reuters/Ahmed Zakot)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Egypt on Friday allowed the third and the final batch of Hajj pilgrims from the Gaza Strip to pass through its territory en route to Saudi Arabia before closing the crossing at the end of the day, officials said.
Sami Mitwali, Egyptian director of the Rafah terminal, told Ma'an that Egyptian authorities had allowed 728 Palestinian Hajj pilgrims to pass through the Rafah crossing. Friday was the seventh day in a row that the crossing was open to allow pilgrims time to pass.
Egypt also allowed 97 Palestinians to return to the Gaza Strip who had been stuck in Egypt on Friday. Additionally, Egypt allowed 51 trucks carrying Qatari construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip, Mitwali said.
Mitwali added that the crossing will be closed until further notice, although it might re-open on Saturday. The crossing will be closed on Sunday due to the commemoration of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
The administrative and the media delegations of the pilgrimage are, however, still stuck at Rafah land crossing amid mutual accusations between the Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip's Hamas government.
Egyptian authorities took the passports of the two delegations and banned them from traveling. Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of asking Egyptian authorities not to allow the two delegations to travel, while the Palestinian Authority accused Hamas of not allowing the two delegations to travel by not giving them proper visas.
The Union of Palestinian Journalists denounced the banning of the media delegation from traveling on the Hajj pilgrimage this year.
There have been frequent closures of the Rafah terminal in recent weeks due to political unrest in Egypt and violence in the Sinai peninsula.
After the July coup, which deposed president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's army has repeatedly closed the Rafah border crossing and destroyed hundreds of tunnels that Gazans used for years to import fuel, building materials and other goods.
The Rafah crossing has been the principal connection between Gaza's 1.7 million residents and the outside world since the imposition of an economic blockade by the State of Israel beginning in 2007. The blockade has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans.