12/03/2008, 00.00
EGYPT - PALESTINE

Hamas: no pilgrimage to Mecca for faithful of Gaza Strip

Their offense is that they asked for permission to leave from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, controlled by Fatah. An internal power struggle is affecting the Muslims, and is judged as "an abominable crime" by the highest Sunni authority in Egypt. The news is raising ironic comments from Israeli newspapers.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - "An abominable crime." This is how Mohammed Sayyed Tantaoui, imam of the mosque of Al Azhar, judges the decision by Hamas to block the pilgrimage to Mecca by a group of Palestinian faithful from the Gaza Strip. "Anyone who prevents a Muslim from making the pilgrimage to Mecca commits an abominable crime," comments the Egyptian imam, the highest Sunni authority in the country, to the official news agency Mena.

In order to meet the needs of the 3,000 Palestinian faithful, Egypt had decided to open the border crossing in Rafa, by which they would have crossed into Saudi Arabia through Nuweiba, on the Red Sea. Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since June of 2007, has blocked the pilgrims from reaching the crossing point, keeping them inside the border.

The minister of religious affairs for the Hamas government has said that he does not consider the travel visas carried by the pilgrims as valid. They were issued by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in agreement with the Fatah movement. So it's an interior power struggle, which is affecting the pilgrims who only want to go to Mecca.

The news has also been picked up by Israeli newspapers, which are commenting ironically on the blockade imposed by Hamas: "What a sensational headline, what a fascinating paradox," says Haaretz. "What Israel has never dared to do - certainly not to this extent - is being done by a Palestinian government for which Islam is the basis of its platform and provides personal guidance for each of its ministers."

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