800 Palestinians allowed to exit Gaza for Umrah for first time in 5 years

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A Palestinian hugs a relative prior to boarding a bus at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Sunday before crossing to depart for the holy city of Makkah to perform Umrah for the first time since 2014. — AFP

Gaza City — Some 800 Palestinians crossed Sunda from the Gaza Strip into Egypt on their initial stage of a pilgrimage to Makkah, the first time since 2014 Egyptian authorities have granted visas for such a trip.

The pilgrims left at around dawn and were to be met by buses on the Egyptian side to bring them to Cairo’s airport, from where they would fly to Saudi Arabia, said a Palestinian official at the Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip.

Fifteen Gazans among the 800 were not authorized to cross, according to a Palestinian security official at Rafah, without providing the reasons.

Security sources on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing confirmed it was the first such permission for Umrah since the start of Egyptian military operations in northern Sinai in 2014.

Around 2,500 pilgrims are authorized annually to leave Gaza via Egypt for Haj.

The Rafah crossing with Egypt is the only one out of Gaza not controlled by Israel. It had been largely closed in recent years, but was reopened some 10 months ago.

Around 300 travelers use it daily in either direction, according to figures dating to December provided by the Gisha NGO, which monitors the blockade on Gaza. — AFP


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