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Saudi says will receive Palestinians late for Hajj - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Saudi security forces march during a parade in preparations for the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj) in Mecca December 3, 2008 (REUTERS)

Saudi security forces march during a parade in preparations for the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj) in Mecca December 3, 2008 (REUTERS)

RIYADH, (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is prepared to receive Palestinian pilgrims who arrive late for the Hajj pilgrimage which starts this week, an official said.

Palestinian pilgrims bound for the holy city of Mecca were prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip via Egypt on Saturday. The enclave’s Hamas Islamist rulers and the rival Fatah leadership in the West Bank blamed each other for the hold-up. “We hope Palestinian pilgrims will be able to carry out this Islamic duty and this is up to the Palestinian authorities,” Interior Minister Prince Naif said late on Wednesday after inspecting sites near Mecca. “We welcome them at any time. Even if they don’t arrive until the eighth day, we will receive them,” he said referring to Saturday, the eighth day of the Islamic month and when pilgrims begin to move from Mecca to the plain of Arafat.

Saudi Arabia has said it granted visas to Palestinians who registered for the Hajj through the Palestinian Authority, controlled by President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.

Some 3,000 Gazans tried to arrange visas through Hamas, which seized control of the enclave last year.

Hamas is appealing to Saudi Arabia to give them visas and some leaders say they will prevent anyone leaving Gaza for the pilgrimage unless it does so.

“It does not concern us if they are Hamas or any other group. We look at Palestinian pilgrims as Muslim, no matter what their political affiliations are, we welcome the pilgrims,” the prince said. He said King Abdullah had granted Palestinians extra visas but it was not clear how many or whether this came in response to the problems in Gaza.

Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have worked to promote an accord between the Palestinians to end a schism that has hamstrung Abbas’s efforts to secure a peace settlement with Israel.

Around 2 million pilgrims are expected to have arrived in the kingdom by Saturday for the Hajj, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim at least once in their lifetime.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud salutes soldiers during a military parade in the Saudi holy city of Mecca on December 3, 2008 in preparation for the Hajj (AFP)

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud salutes soldiers during a military parade in the Saudi holy city of Mecca on December 3, 2008 in preparation for the Hajj (AFP)

Saudi security forces march in preparation of the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj) in Mecca, December 3, 2008 (REUTERS)

Saudi security forces march in preparation of the annual Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj) in Mecca, December 3, 2008 (REUTERS)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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