Saturday, December 29, 2007
"More than 2,000 Palestinians returning from the annual Hajj pilgrimage have been left stranded on boats off the Egyptian coast after Cairo denied them permission to return to Gaza.
Egypt has demanded the Palestinians return to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Israel, but many fear they will be detained by the authorities if they do. On Saturday, Hamas called on Egypt to open its border with the Gaza Strip to let the Palestinians return home from the in Mecca.
The Palestinians have been stranded for two days on the two ferryboats on the Egyptian coast after sailing on Friday from Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said Israel and the US were pressuring Egypt not to allow the pilgrims to return to Gaza.
Abu Zuhri said: "We are aware of the Israeli and American pressures on Egypt, and we urge Egypt to reject these pressures and to allow the pilgrims a safe return through Rafah."
Hamas officials said that 2,200 Gaza pilgrims were stranded on the ships and said a 62-year-old woman had died aboard one of the ships after falling ill.
The group fears Israel will arrest some of the pilgrims.....
Earlier, a Jordanian foreign ministry official said in Amman that the pilgrims sailed from Aqaba to Nuweiba after a promise that they could re-enter Gaza from Rafah. "The foreign ministry contacted the Egyptian authorities and secured permission for the Palestinian pilgrims to go back to Gaza via Rafah," Jordan's state-run Petra news agency quoted the official as saying.
According to Petra, the pilgrims refused to go back to Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Karm Salem crossing "because many of them are relatives or families of martyrs and other people are wanted by Israeli authorities."
About 7,000 people waving Palestinian and Hamas flags gathered on the Gaza side of the border with Egypt on Saturday and demanded the pilgrims be allowed to enter.
"We won't accept any excuse for preventing the pilgrims from returning," read a banner carried by one of the protestors.
About 100 Egyptian riot police mounted a machine gun on a building overlooking the corridor separating Egypt from Gaza.
Hamas security positioned themselves between the protesters and the border gate, and the crowd eventually dispersed."