Hamas warns of sabotage if Gaza pilgrims remain stranded in Egypt

By Xinhua

Gaza : Hamas on Monday threatened to make trouble on southern Gaza Strip borders with Egypt if Cairo continued to delay Palestinian pilgrims from returning home via the Gaza-Egyptian border.

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“Egypt can alone make a decision to open Rafah crossing,” said Ismail al-Ashqar, a Hamas lawmaker, referring to the only crossing in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip that allows Palestinians there to go from and to the outside world bypassing Israel.

Israel wants the pilgrims to return through Israeli crossings for security checks. The pilgrims left Gaza earlier this month for the hajj through Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which was opened upon a deal between Hamas and Egypt.

The departure of the pilgrims has angered Israel, which has imposed a siege on Gaza since June in response to Hamas’ takeover of the territory.

Egypt has been under intense Israeli pressure, as the latter accuses Egypt of not doing enough to stop smuggling of weapons andmoney through Sinai tunnels into Gaza.

Al-Ashqar warned that if the pilgrims were harmed, “things will break out and it will be reflected on Egypt and the whole region.”

He also slammed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also Fatah leader who had complained to the United States about the departure of the Gaza-based pilgrims through Rafah crossing.

The standoff over the pilgrims began on Saturday when over 3,000 Palestinians, including at least 10 well-known Hamas figures, returned from the hajj in Saudi Arabia by ferry at the Egyptian Red Sea port of Nuweiba in southern Sinai.

Egypt attempts to have them return to Gaza through an Israeli-controlled border crossing, which is refused by the pilgrims.

The Palestinian pilgrims are afraid that Israel will arrest tens of them if they passed through its crossings. As a result, they are stuck in the water between Egypt and Jordan.