ISMAILIA, Egypt, (Reuters) – Israel allowed 121 Palestinians stranded in Egypt for roughly four months to head home to Gaza on Tuesday via the Jewish state, but turned away hundreds more who had expected to cross the border, Egyptian security sources said.
They said the Palestinians had their travel papers processed at the Rafah border crossing and were taken by bus to the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom border point. They had been expected to enter the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing in Israel.
But security sources said Israel admitted only 121 Palestinians, and turned back another 429 who had been expected to cross. They said the Israeli side did not give a reason, and that it was possible those Palestinians could cross in the coming days.
There was still no word on when an estimated 1,500 other Palestinians might be able to return home, including roughly 1,100 pilgrims returning from the Muslim haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Israel allowed 132 stranded Palestinians to return home on Monday, including some who had been stuck at the el-Arish airport and police stations because they had refused to enter Gaza through Israel, Egyptian security sources said.
Stranded haj pilgrims smashed furniture and windows at an Egyptian-run shelter on Monday, angry they could not immediately return home to Gaza a day after they left the Red Sea port of Nuweiba for el-Arish in north Sinai as Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian officials negotiated their passage home.
Israel insists they all must pass through Israeli security checks on the grounds that some may be carrying arms or money for the Islamist movement Hamas, which runs Gaza.
Some of the pilgrims had left Gaza for Egypt through a border post not subject to Israeli control and say they do not want to undergo Israeli checks when they go back.
A Hamas spokesman has called on Egypt to let the pilgrims cross directly into Gaza without passing through Israel. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said he wanted to see a negotiated solution.