For the first time since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war (at least), no Palestinians from the Gaza Strip are making the sacred annual pilgrimage to Mecca this year. Saudi Arabia, seeking to bolster the (Fatah) administration on the West Bank, asked it to compose a list of Palestinian pilgrims—4,000 from the West Bank and 2,200 from Gaza. Egypt opened its border with Gaza to allow the pilgrims out, and the West Bank residents left two weeks ago. But the Hamas administration in Gaza insisted on submitting its own list. When the Saudis said they would not grant visas to those on the Hamas list, Hamas set up checkpoints along the Egyptian border and barred passage to those on the other list.
Witnesses said the police used sticks to beat those who refused to turn back, and five travel company owners who dealt with the West Bank officials for the hajj were reportedly jailed. “Even the Israelis never dared prevent the pilgrimage this way,” complained travel company owner Maher Amin to the New York Times. (NYT, Dec. 4)
In a sign of hope for reconciliation, the Fatah Ministry of Health in Ramallah sent two trucks containing $3 million of medicine and medical equipment to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip Nov. 4. The Ministry received permission from the Israeli government after submitting an application to dispatch the trucks. The trucks were, however, obstructed for four hours by Israeli soldiers at the Ofer checkpoint in Betuniya, outside Ramallah. (Ma’an News Agency, Dec. 4)
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