The Saudi government has refused to work with Hamas’s ministry of endowments in registering pilgrims from Gaza, forcing the ministries of Hamas and Fatah to cooperate ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage, which begins October 24.
Hamas and Fatah were forced to cooperate “not through the willingness of the ministries or governments to unite, but due to Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow two [separate] delegations of Palestinian pilgrims, and the insistence of Riyadh on cooperating [only] with the Palestinian Authority’s ministry of endowments,” Palestinian sources told the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi Monday.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj provides travel visas to Muslims worldwide through local licensed travel agencies, with the Saudi government setting quotas for each country.
Because of the Saudi intransigence regarding Hamas, the Palestinian Authority’s ministry found itself responsible for processing pilgrims from Gaza as well.
Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, is one of five basic tenets of the Islamic faith and is normally performed at least once in a believer’s lifetime, subject to his financial capabilities.
Visiting Gazan pilgrims in Mecca, PA minister of endowments Mahmoud Habbash pointed out the irony of being able to meet them only in Saudi Arabia. Habbash took advantage of the moment to score political points at Hamas’s expense, highlighting the supremacy of the PLO and its leader Mahmoud Abbas over Hamas.
“It is a historic moment for us pilgrims, coming from all districts of the nation, to meet in this sacred land,” Habbash told the men from Gaza. “Pilgrims have only one address and one representative: the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which represents the Palestinian collective.”
“We will meet and unite soon in Gaza very soon,” he was quoted by Al-Quds Al-Arabi as saying.
But Hamas’s minister of endowments, Ismail Radwan, did not clear the field for his West Bank equivalent. Radwan also visited Palestinian pilgrims in Mecca, promising to solve any technical problems that may arise during their stay in Saudi Arabia.
Radwan said that for the first time this year, his ministry has provided shuttle services from the pilgrims’ hotels to the Kaaba, the central place of worship in Mecca.
Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and the sides have been unable to finalize a political reconciliation agreement.