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Sunday, December 30, 2007

'Palestinian pilgrims' bussed to El Arish

The 'Palestinian pilgrims' whose ferries were not being allowed to land in Nuweiba unless they agreed to return to the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing point that is controlled by Israel, are now being bussed 155 miles to El Arish in the northern Sinai. Their numbers have now swelled to more than 3000.
The 1,166 Palestinians who left Nuweiba Sunday boarded 29 buses headed for El-Arish, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of the Sinai port city and less than 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Rafah, the security official said.

A total of 3,060 Palestinians have arrived in Nuweiba on two ferries, and authorities plan to send a second batch of buses to transport those who remain, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Hamas representatives had indicated Saturday that some 1,900 pilgrims were stuck in Nuweiba, but this figure apparently only included those on the first ferry.

Egypt's attempts to force the pilgrims to use the Keren Shalom crossing, reportedly under Israeli pressure, have outraged Hamas supporters in Gaza, who staged large-scale protests on Saturday.

Al-Jazeera television aired interviews with the pilgrims before they left Jordan in which they showed a paper Egypt allegedly asked them to sign saying they would to return to Gaza through Keren Shalom.


The leader of Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, called on the Egyptian authorities Sunday "to exercise their historical duty" to the Palestinians and let them return to Gaza using the Rafah crossing.

Egypt has set up 11 temporary camps in El-Arish to house the pilgrims until authorities come up with a solution to the current crisis, security officials said.
This 'arrangement' for dealing with the returning 'Palestinians' was apparently agreed between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during their meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh last week.

DEBKA adds:
The number of passengers proved greater than estimated when they disembarked at Nuweiba, on the Sinai shore of the Gulf of Aqaba Sunday, 30 Dec. After being herded together they were bussed to a detention center in the northern Sinai town of El Arish.

The Hamas group, carrying app. $150 million collected during the Mecca hajj, had held the two Aqaba-Nuweiba ferries hostage under threaten to scuttle them. They rejected Egypt’s demand to first sign undertakings to enter Gaza through one of the crossings controlled by Israel and submit to searches.

A 62-year old Palestinian female passenger, Shafiqa Bahisi, died under the strain. Saturday, as Egypt stood firm, Hamas gathered tens of thousands of supporters from around the Gaza Strip to ram the Rafah gateway to Egyptian Sinai, while Cairo beefed up its security units at the terminal.
The Egyptians must really be afraid of losing some of their American foreign aid.


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