By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
El-ARISH, Egypt – Following a pilgrimage to Mecca, two thousand Palestinians are stranded in Egypt as a result of a dispute on their re-entry into Gaza. The Egyptian and Israeli governments would like the pilgrims to return to Gaza via the Israeli controlled Aouja crossing, to ensure that weapons or money are not smuggled into Gaza.
However, Palestinians insist that the pilgrims be allowed to re-enter via the Egyptian controlled Rafah crossing. The Rafah crossing is the only entry into Gaza which is not controlled by Israel. In mid-December, the Egyptian government permitted the pilgrims to exit Gaza through the Rafah crossing, despite Israeli protests against it.
Some of the Palestinian pilgrims are members (or are related to members) of Hamas or are wanted by the Israeli government. They fear that if they will be arrested if forced to return through the Israel. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, said that Hamas rejects any other crossing. Also, Hamas lawmaker, Yehia Moussa, said that Egypt had an obligation to allow the pilgrims to return home.
On December 28, over two thousand Palestinian pilgrims left Jordan to sail to the Red Sea port of Nuweiba, Egypt. The Egyptian government finally permitted entry into Egypt after the pilgrims were stranded on the ferries for two days. Then, the Palestinians were bused to several camps in the Sinai until the parties agree on a method of re-entry. Currently, Egyptian officials are considering several options; including receiving assurances from Israeli authorities that no one will arrested or allowing the pilgrims to re-enter through Rafah, despite Israel’s wishes.
Following the busing of at least one thousand pilgrims to temporary camps near el-Arish, Egypt, many of the pilgrims began protesting. Many refused to exit the bus, while others broke windows and started fires to protest Egypt’s decision. Masses of Palestinians gathered on the border between Gaza and Egypt and demanded that the pilgrims be allowed to enter. However, the demonstration was quickly controlled by the Hamas security forces.
In a similar incident, Palestinians and Israelis clashed at a border crossing. According to an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) official, IDF soldiers fired warning shots into the air to disperse the on-coming crowds and these warning shots resulted in the death of a Palestinian woman. However, witnesses claim that following warning shots in the air, IDF soldiers also fired shots into the crowd, killing one woman and wounding three others.
For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – Stranded Pilgrims Riot in Egypt – 31 December 2007
BBC – Protest by Stranded Gaza Pilgrims – 31 December 2007
Jerusalem Post – IDF: Pilgrim ‘Apparently’ Shot by Troops – 31 December 2007
London Times – Pilgrims Left in Limbo as Egypt Bars Their Route Home to Gaza– 31 December 2007
Reuters – Stranded Palestinian Haj Pilgrims Protest in Egypt – 31 December 2007
AFP – Palestinian Pilgrims Stuck in Egypt Refuse to be Moved to Camps – 30 December 2007
Associated Press – Pilgrims Stuck in Egypt Taken to Camps – 30 December 2007
BBC – Gaza Pilgrims Stay on Their Buses – 30 December 2007
Reuters – Gunfire Kills One Palestinian Pilgrim, Wounds Four – 30 December 2007
Al-Jazeera – Gaza Pilgrims Stranded off Egypt – 29 December 2007
BBC – Gaza Pilgrims Stranded in Red Sea – 29 December 2008
International Herald Tribune – Close to Two Thousand Palestinian Pilgrims Trapped in Egypt – 29 December 2007