No Umrah for sealed Gazans

GAZA CITY: With the war-battered Gaza Strip’s borders closed, thousands of people have been shut out of a Haj because they cannot leave the sealed territory.

Some 7,500 Gazans have sought to travel to Saudi Arabia, for Umrah but have been turned away. Egypt restricts movement in and out of the coastal enclave. Egypt has shut its border with the Gaza Strip since Oct. 24, citing security concerns in its northern Sinai Peninsula. It has opened it only intermittently for students and patients seeking medical care. Israel heavily restricts exit from the territory.

The closure is affecting a population already disaffected by a war against Israel last summer that destroyed thousands of homes and has displaced tens of thousands of people.

“I wait hour by hour. We feel every day that passes without leaving as though it’s a year,” said Fares Hayek, 80, who is among those waiting to make the pilgrimage. He applied in November along with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Travel agents who facilitate the yearly pilgrimage say they’ve taken a hit from the closed borders. Awad Abu Mazkour, the head of a group that represents travel agents, said agents in Gaza are losing some $140,000 in license fees, bank guarantees and hotel bookings each month because of the closed crossing.


Categories: Arab World, Asia, Saudi Arabia

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