Gazans prevented from traveling to Mecca
For the first time since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, no Palestinians from Gaza are making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca this year because of a power struggle over which Palestinian government is legitimate, reported the New York Times.
Saudi Arabia, which runs the pilgrimage, known as the hajj, asked the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank, run by President Mahmoud Abbas and backed by the West and Israel, to compose the list of pilgrims, 4,000 from the West Bank and 2,200 from Gaza. Egypt opened its border with Gaza to allows the pilgrimage.
The West Bank residents left two weeks ago but Hamas, the Islamist militant group that runs Gaza, insisted on submitting its own list of Gazans. When the Saudis said they would not grant any of them visas, Hamas set up eight checkpoints along the route to the Egyptian border and barred passage to those on the other list.
According to witnesses, the police used sticks to beat those who did not turn back. Maher Amin, owner of a tourist company, said five other tourist company owners who dealt with the West Bank officials for the hajj were jailed by security officials.
As a results, Gazans are deprived of of the chance to perform one of the most basic duties of a Muslim, the Mecca pilgrimage.
â€śEven the Israelis never dared prevent the pilgrimage this way,â€? Amin said.
â€śThey have been putting military and economic pressure on Gaza, but this is a new form of pressure,â€? said Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas leader in the West Bank. â€śWe will not give in.â€? Since the hajj takes several days and ends early next week, there is no chance a compromise will be reached, he said.
Hamas is under growing pressure not only from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but from much of the Arab world after withdrawing from a Cairo-sponsored effort to reconcile it with the West Bank government.