Last update - 21:49 06/12/2008     
      Abbas slams Hamas for depriving thousands of Palestinians of haj 
      By Reuters  

      Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday blamed Hamas for 
preventing thousands of Palestinians taking part in the haj pilgrimage, saying 
even Israel had not held back pilgrims from the sacred rites. 

      "Unfortunately, this is the first time in the history of the Palestinian 
people that pilgrims were prevented. Israel never once prevented pilgrims," 
Abbas told reporters during the haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. 

      "The pilgrims from Gaza were deprived of haj this year - hopefully, next 
year they will be the first to come as part of the pilgrim quota for Gaza."  
Palestinian pilgrims bound for the holy city of Mecca were prevented from 
leaving the Gaza Strip via Egypt on Saturday. The enclave's Hamas Islamist 
rulers and the rival Fatah leadership in the West Bank blamed each other for 
the hold-up. 

      Saudi Arabia was also involved in the dispute. 

      Saudi Arabia granted visas to Palestinians who registered through the 
Palestinian Authority run by Abbas' secular Fatah faction. 

      Hamas asked Saudi Arabia to give visas to some 3,000 people who tried to 
arrange haj through Hamas authorities in Gaza and some Hamas figures said they 
would prevent anyone leaving Gaza for the pilgrimage unless Saudi Arabia 
approved the trips. 

      "This is the third time in the history of Islam that pilgrims are 
prevented from coming to the Kaaba," Abbas said, referring to the ancient cubic 
shrine at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. 

      Saudi Arabia said this week it would be prepared to receive Palestinian 
pilgrims who arrive late for the haj, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim at 
least once in their lifetime. 

      Abbas put the number of Palestinians who had failed to make it to haj in 
the thousands. 


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