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2,500 Gazans unable to perform Hajj due to Israeli occupation of Rafah crossing: Official

June 15, 2024 at 3:18 pm

Rafah Border Crossing in Egypt on November 30, 2023. [Ferdi Bayat – Anadolu Agency]

The war in Gaza and Israeli occupation of the Rafah crossing which connects Gaza to Egypt have prevented 2,500 Palestinians from performing the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage this year, according to the Ministry of Endowments in the Gaza Strip, Anadolu Agency reports.

This is a “clear violation of religious freedom,” said ministry spokesperson Ikrami Al-Mudallal, who spoke to Anadolu.

The war has prevented the ministry from completing the usual Hajj preparations, including signing transportation contracts within Egypt and Saudi Arabia and booking accommodations in Mecca and Medina, he added.

Al-Mudallal noted that “the closure of the Rafah crossing and the ongoing conflict have stopped 2,500 Gaza pilgrims, including accompanying missions, from traveling to perform Hajj.”

“This group represents 38% of the total 6,600 Palestinian pilgrims,” he said.

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Efforts to address the issue

Al-Mudallal said the ministry is in contact with the relevant authorities in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to address what they describe as a “blatant infringement” of Palestinian pilgrims’ rights and to find ways for them to travel for Hajj.

He assured that the pilgrims affected this year “would not lose their right to perform Hajj next year, with priority given to them,” especially since many have waited years for their turn and 70% are elderly or ill.

Royal gesture

This year, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s royal gesture to host 500 pilgrims from the families of those killed and wounded in Gaza was allocated to families outside the Gaza Strip, according to Al-Mudallal.

“This gesture allowed those who had left Gaza to perform the Hajj, preserving Gaza’s right to the royal gesture,” he said.

On June 6, the Saudi monarch ordered the exceptional hosting of 1,000 pilgrims from the families of Gaza’s killed and wounded as part of the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ Hajj and Umrah Guest Program.

These pilgrims were chosen from those who had left Gaza either due to the war or for medical treatment.

Condemnation and missed opportunity

In March 2023, the Ministry of Endowments in the Gaza Strip conducted a lottery to select pilgrims for 2023 and 2024 due to limited slots and the ongoing Israeli blockade, prioritizing the elderly and sick.

The ministry condemned the situation at the end of May, saying the ongoing Israeli aggression, the occupation of the Rafah crossing and its closure since May 7 had prevented the completion of this year’s Hajj season for Gaza pilgrims. It called this “a clear violation of religious freedom and international humanitarian law.”

The ministry urged Egypt and Saudi Arabia to pressure all parties, primarily the Israeli occupation, to enable Gaza residents to perform the Hajj this year, emphasizing the significant emotional and financial impact on the affected pilgrims.

Israel has faced international condemnation amid its continued brutal offensive on Gaza since an Oct. 7, 2023 attack by the Palestinian group Hamas, despite a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire.

More than 37,200 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza, most of them women and children, and over 84,900 others injured, according to local health authorities.

Eight months into the Israeli war, vast tracts of Gaza lay in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water and medicine.

Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice, whose latest ruling ordered it to immediately halt its military operation in Rafah, where over a million Palestinians had sought refuge from the war before it was invaded on May 6.

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