Egypt cleric slams hajj ban after Hamas blocks pilgrims

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CAIRO: Egypt s leading cleric Mohamed Tantawy has condemned the blocking of Muslim pilgrims as an abominable crime after Hamas prevented the faithful leaving the Gaza Strip over the past four days.

Whoever prevents [a Muslim from pilgrimage] is committing an abominable crime, state news agency MENA quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

Egypt s government had said it would open its Rafah border crossing with Gaza starting from Saturday to allow 3,000 Palestinians to embark on the hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

But Hamas blocked pilgrims who had obtained Saudi visas through the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank that does not recognize Hamas after it violently took over Gaza last year.

The hajj is one of the five tenets of Sunni Islam, which each devout Muslim who has the means must fulfill at least once in their life.

Hamas, which has increasingly used harsh crackdowns against its opponents in Gaza, was heavily criticized for blocking the pilgrims.

Rafah is the only Gaza border crossing not controlled by Israel, which blockaded the impoverished territory after Hamas seized power there, routing Fatah.

The Egyptian government says it is impartial in mediating between the two rivals, but Hamas and Syria have accused it of bias towards Fatah.

Tantawy, the state-appointed head of the Islamic Al-Azhar University, has criticized anti-Israeli suicide bombings by Hamas in the past. -AFP

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