GAZA PILGRIMS CRISIS ESCALATES

Hundreds of Palestinian pilgrims stuck in Egypt have refused to be moved into camps in the North Sinai city of El-Arish until they are given guarantees that they would return to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing.

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Hundreds of Palestinian pilgrims stuck in Egypt have refused to be moved into camps in the North Sinai city of El-Arish until they are given guarantees that they would return to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing.
Over 2,000 Palestinian pilgrims were bussed to El-Arish after having been stuck on boats off Egypt’s Red Sea port of Nuweiba since December 29. They have refused demands by Egyptian authorities to pledge in writing that they would agree to return to Gaza via Israel-controlled Karm Salem crossing. Egyptian authorities on December 30 tried to persuade them to stay in shelters at a sports complex or at a youth hostel until a decision is reached on their return.
The pilgrims, who were allowed in mid-December to leave for hajj through the Rafah crossing, fear humiliation or arrest by Israeli soldiers at Karm Salem. Israel insists that the pilgrims must return through Karm Salem, claiming that they might be infiltrated by “militants” or carry cash for Hamas.
There are also about 1,000 Palestinians stranded in Egypt from before the hajj, because they had been also denied access to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. They spent a gloomy `Eid Al-Adha earlier this month far away from their children and families. The Rafah terminal – Gaza’s only border crossing that bypasses Israel – has been closed since Hamas seized control of the territory in mid-June after a week of deadly factional violence with Fatah.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on December 30 admitted that the pilgrims standoff had placed Egypt in an embarrassing situation. “We are trying out best to resolve the crisis in a suitable way and as soon as possible,” Mubarak said at a press conference with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The president urged the pilgrims to display restraint until Egypt reaches a negotiated solution with Israel.