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Gaza pilgrims stranded in Saudi Arabia due to Egypt unrest

July 7, 2013 1:27 P.M. (Updated: July 8, 2013 5:52 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of Palestinian pilgrims are stranded in Saudi Arabia due to unrest in Egypt, a transport company official said Sunday.

Some 900 pilgrims from the Gaza Strip were due to return home on Wednesday, but could not travel due to turmoil in Egypt. The Egyptian army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi on Wednesday after millions of protesters rallied to demand the Islamist leader quit.

Awad Abu Mathkour, head of transport companies that organize Hajj pilgrimages, said Palestinian pilgrims could not fly to El-Arish airport or travel from the airport to the Rafah crossing on the Gaza border as unrest made the journey unsafe.

Egypt's military has closed the El-Arish airport and the Rafah crossing after a series of militant attacks in Sinai, including an attack on the airport.

Meanwhile, Palestinians stranded in Saudi Arabia are running out of money, although transport companies are paying for their hotel accommodation, Abu Mathkour told Ma'an, adding that the companies were suffering major financial losses.

"Company owners will visit the embassy of Palestine in Jeddah to ask them to urge the Egyptian government to allow pilgrims to return to Egypt via Cairo airport since El-Arish airport is closed due to security issues," Abu Mathkour said.

The pilgrims have two-week visas which will expire soon, he added.

Meanwhile, 766 Palestinians were due to leave the Gaza Strip for Mecca on Wednesday to perform the Umrah pilgrimage but their trip was canceled, the transport company official said.

Egypt's army closed the Rafah crossing on Friday due to unrest in Sinai. The military has not informed Palestinian officials when it will reopen, the government in Gaza said Sunday.

Due to Israel's land, sea and air blockade on Gaza, Palestinians can only enter or leave the enclave through the Rafah terminal on Egypt's border.
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