On Saturday, Hamas called on Egypt to open its border with the Gaza Strip to let the Palestinians return home from the pilgrimage in Mecca.

Egypt demanded that the Palestinians return to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip via Israel, but many feared they would be detained by the authorities if they did.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said Israel and the US were pressuring Egypt not to allow the pilgrims to return to Gaza.
 
Abu Zuhri said: "We are aware of the Israeli and American pressures on Egypt, and we urge Egypt to reject these pressures and to allow the pilgrims a safe return through Rafah."

The group fears Israel will arrest some of the pilgrims, who Israel believe may be carrying money for Hamas and other groups.

Possible options

Hussein Abdul Ghani, Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief, said the Egyptian authorities were considering three options:

The first was to receive assurances from Israel to let the Palestinian pilgrims return to Gaza via Israel without arresting any of them.

The second option was to move the pilgrims to camps near Arish, in the Sinai region of Egypt.

The third was to let the pilgrims return through the Rafah crossing, against the wish of the Israeli government.

Israel had protested against Egypt's decision to let the pilgrims leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing to perform the Hajj earlier in the month.

But Ahmed Abdul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, said that he was "not concerned" about the Israeli protests; what concerned him was enabling Palestinian pilgrims to perform the Hajj.