Egypt lets 2000 pilgrims through Rafah

Friday, January 4, 2008

Egypt has allowed approximately 2000 Palestinian pilgrims through the Rafah Border Crossing, a move which Israel says violates an understanding between its Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt initially denied the pilgrims entrance, insisting that they enter via an Israeli-controlled route, but finally gave clearance after three Palestinians died while being retained in border camps for five days.

Israel soon responded to the move saying that "it is very important for Israel to insist — and stand firm on its right to do so — that the border between Egypt-Sinai and the Strip be closed and that neither terrorists nor weapons get through."

Hamas spokesperson Taher al-Nounou praised the move, saying that the issue was "a Palestinian-Egyptian affair and Israel has nothing to intervene in."

Among the 2000 pilgrims were senior Hamas officials who Israel fears may have smuggled money to the government.

An Egyptian military source said "we didn't like it that they left and we didn't like the way they returned."

The Pilgrims were allowed to leave through the crossing by Israel in late December for the annual Islamic Pilgrimage to Mecca.