RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Authority Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs Mahmoud Habbash condemned the Hamas government of the Gaza Strip for refusing to allow 86 Palestinians to visit Saudi Arabia to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage.
The Hamas government reportedly harassed and confiscated the passports of 86 Palestinian pilgrims at the Rafah crossing into Egypt before turning them back.
Habbash described Hamas' actions as “oppressive" and against the principles of "religion, morals and humanity."
Egypt in recent days opened the Rafah crossing to the Gaza Strip for limited periods to accommodate Muslim pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia. The move came amidst weeks during which the crossing was mostly closed following a military coup in Aug. 3 and crackdown on the Hamas-allied Muslim Brotherhood.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, and the Rafah crossing into Egypt is one of the few ways in and out for the vast majority of Palestinians there.
Muslims consider the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime to be a fundamental tenet of their religion.