GAZA (Reuters) – Hundreds of white-robed Muslims staged a protest at the closed border crossing between Hamas-run Gaza and Egypt on Thursday to demand they be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual haj pilgrimage.
The Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt has largely been closed since the Islamist group seized control of the coastal enclave in June, routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah forces.
“We are answering you God, the only God,” the protesters said — a chant used by Muslims during the annual pilgrimage to the Saudi Arabian holy city of Mecca.
“We are going to worship God and we will not be stopped,” said 55-year-old pilgrim Abu Ali.
Under Saudi Arabia’s haj system, Gaza will send 2,200 Muslims to the pilgrimage. But both Hamas and Fatah have registered pilgrims and it is unclear whether either Egypt or Israel will open crossings allowing them to leave the enclave.
The 5-day haj ritual starts later in December but according to Muslim teaching, pilgrims who travel to Mecca from across the Muslim world must arrive in Saudi Arabia ahead of time.
Israel and the Palestinians agreed this week to start talks about creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but the Hamas Islamists who control the coastal territory have shunned the peace push.
Israel considers Gaza an enemy and has tightened border restrictions on the territory since Hamas’s takeover.