Egypt opens Gaza crossing for hajj pilgrims

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) –


Egypt reopened its border with the Gaza Strip Monday for the first time in months to allow Muslims from the blockaded Palestinian enclave to travel to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage, authorities said.

"The crossing was reopened this morning for four days in one direction for 2,500 pilgrims," Hisham Adwan, director of information at the crossings authority of the Hamas-run interior ministry, said.

"About 800 pilgrims will leave the strip today," he added, saying they had all already received Saudi visas.

The Rafah crossing with Egypt has been largely closed in recent years apart from occasional openings.

Israel has also maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza for a decade that it says is necessary to stop Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the strip, from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.

Egypt is the only other country with which the strip has a land border. Egyptian authorities accuse Hamas of supporting Islamist factions in the country.

But Hamas has moved closer to the Egyptian government in recent months and officials privately hope the Rafah crossing will be at least partially reopened from next month.

One pilgrim who was waiting to cross the border told AFP he had been trying to travel to Mecca since 2014.