GAZA, (Reuters) – Hundreds of Gaza Palestinians set off for Mecca on Friday for the annual haj pilgrimage, after bitter rivals Fatah and Hamas set aside their dispute to agree on a list of 4,500 participants from the strip.
Israel also cooperated by allowing the transfer of vaccine to Gaza for the H1N1 flu virus, to protect the pilgrims from the disease, and inoculations were administered as pilgrims entered Egypt via the Rafah crossing at the southern tip of the strip.
Palestinians from Gaza were unable to perform the pilgrimage last year because of the rift between the two main Palestinian political movements. The Islamist group Hamas seized control of the impoverished coastal strip in 2007 and drove members of the secular Fatah movement out.
Despite a year of Egyptian mediation, the two groups have not managed to reconcile their differences or even agree on a schedule of steps towards that end. But the Fatah-led administration in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza have managed to agree on a list of names for submission to the Saudi authorities who run the haj.
Sami Abdallah, 34, said he hoped Fatah-Hamas cooperation could serve as a model for healing a political split that has splintered the Palestinian national movement.
“I urge them to either end the division or leave us alone,” said Abdallah, who was accompanying his mother on the pilgrimage.