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Middle East
Stranded pilgrims riot in Egypt
Protests escalate as hundreds returning from Hajj are unable to return to Gaza.
Last Modified: 01 Jan 2008 11:34 GMT
Palestinians in Gaza demanded the pilgrims be allowed to return through the Rafah crossing [AFP]

Hundreds of Palestinian pilgrims have rioted in temporary camps set up to house them until a dispute over their return to the Gaza Strip has been resolved.

Israel has insisted that the pilgrims returning from Hajj must all pass through Israeli crossing points from Egypt, saying that some may be carrying arms or money for Hamas.
The pilgrims have refused to comply, saying Israel could arrest some of them. They are insisting they be allowed to return to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.
"There were massive protests today by hundreds of angry Palestinian pilgrims inside the shelter set up by Egyptian authorities," a security source told Reuters news agency.

Media reports said that windows were smashed and fires started in the camps in the town of El-Arish in Siani as the Palestinians rioted.
 
An elderly woman died of heart attack as she was caught up in the violence, according to local medical officials.

During Monday's riots, the pilgrims shouted angry slogans against Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, and his government for not allowing them to cross into Gaza through Rafah, where Israel has no control.

'Egypt pressured'

Al Jazeera's Amr el-Kahky in El-Arish said that Egypt was under pressure from Israel not to let the pilgrims through the Rafah crossing.

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Stranded in Egypt

"Egypt cannot let them through after intelligence reports that they are carrying huge amounts of money and that some of them have been military trained outside the country," he said.

Egyptian authorities had tried to persuade them to spend the night in shelters in a sports complex or at a youth hostel in El-Arish until a decision was reached on their return.

But hundreds of them refused to stay in the shelters, spending the night outside before Monday's violence.

After Egyptian security brought the rioting under control, many of the pilgrims continued their protest by refusing to accept meals provided by the government.

Gaza protest

Egypt's refusal to open the Rafah crossing has angered Hamas officials and supporters in Gaza, who say Cairo has a moral obligation to allow the pilgrims to return as quickly as possible.

About 7,000 demonstrators gathered at the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing on Saturday, waving Palestinian and Hamas flags and demanding that the pilgrims be allowed to cross.

Mubarak said on Sunday that his government was doing everything it could to resolve the crisis, indicating the problem with using Rafah was that European monitors were no longer at the crossing.

EU monitors were deployed on the Palestinian side of the crossing until Hamas took full control of the territory and the checkpoint in the summer.
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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