Babylon & Beyond

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EGYPT: Tension along the borders

January 2, 2008 | 12:45 am

Around three thousand Palestinian pilgrims remain stranded along the Egyptian borders with Gaza as the Egyptian government refuses to let them out through the Rafah border crossing. Palestinians have been moved to temporary camps in Al-Arish town, which lies around 30 miles from the border crossing. According to news reports. Palestinians languish in poor shelters with broken windows  and worn-out mattresses.

Earlier this week, a Palestinian woman died of a heart attack during a  protest held by frustrated Palestinians in the camps. Many have been blaming the Egyptian government; however, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, came out this week trying to dispel Palestinian pressures indicating that Egypt was not the only party to blame. He explained that the border crossing cannot be opened without the presence of European monitors, according to a U.S.-brokered deal. However, the European monitors quit their posts after the Gaza Strip was taken over by Hamas in June.

Israel fears that pilgrims might smuggle weapons and cash for Hamas into Gaza if they are allowed in through Rafah crossing. Many pilgrims have protested Egyptian attempts to bring them back home through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom for fear of getting arrested by Israelis. According to the Associated Press, most pilgrims are ordinary Palestinians; however, there are at least ten Hamas figures among them.   

Mubarak is already in a tough position; especially after the latest Israeli statements which accused Egypt of not doing enough to prevent weapon smuggling to Gaza through its borders.

This issue is expected to be raised again by the the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his talks with Mubarak today. Hamas has adopted an aggressive tone against the Egyptian government in light of the current crisis of Gazan pilgrims. "We feel sorry to find Egypt weak, impotent and paralyzed vis-à-vis Israeli pressures because Egypt is above such pressures. We do not want to see our people suffer a new tragedy," Ahmed Youssef, political advisor to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told the local press. Stranded Palestinians vowed to step up their protests if their problem is not solved by  noon.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo