An aircraft provided by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has been put at the disposal of ex-prisoners from Gaza in order to fly them to the kingdom to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. A senior official of the Ministry of Prisoners and Freed Detainees in the Palestinian Authority, Ziad Abu Ein, confirmed that he and his colleagues are working on the necessary travel documents and passports. The ex-prisoner pilgrims will be exempt from any fees involved.
Speaking to Voice of Palestine radio on Thursday, Mr. Abu Ein said that the private plane will land at El-Arish airport in northern Sinai before taking Gaza's ex-prisoners for Hajj. According to Abu Ein, those ex-prisoners in other parts of Palestine and other countries will be taken for Hajj separately. The exception, he added, are those in the occupied West Bank who remain under a form of house arrest imposed by the Israelis, which prevents them from leaving the country. They have been advised not to attempt to leave the country as that will give the Israeli occupation authorities an excuse not to let them back into the country. The women prisoners, said Mr Abu Ein, will travel together as a group to overcome difficulties arising from women having to have close male relatives ("muhrim") with them when travelling to Saudi Arabia.
The Hajj grant was provided by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz at the request of the Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, following their release in the Hamas-Israel prisoner exchange deal agreed last month. The costs are being borne by the Saudi monarch.