Millions of Muslim Pilgrims Start Hajj in Shadow of Israel’s War on Gaza

More than 1.5 million Muslim pilgrims have gathered in Saudi Arabia’s Mecca for the start of Hajj, taking place this year against the harrowing backdrop of Israel’s continued onslaught on the Gaza Strip.

The annual pilgrimage began on Friday with crowds of robed worshippers circling the Kaaba, the black cubic structure at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, many expressing sadness eight months into Israel’s war on Gaza.

“Our brothers are dying, and we can see it with our own eyes,” said 75-year-old Zahra Benizahra from Morocco.

Palestinians in Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive into the strip’s southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

“We were deprived of Hajj because of the closure of the crossing and because of the war and destruction,” Amna Abu Mutlaq, 75, told Al Jazeera. “We are unable to leave and every time we try to leave, they tell us that the crossing is closed and we cannot leave. They deprived us of everything.”

Palestinian authorities said 4,200 people from the occupied West Bank had arrived in Mecca for the pilgrimage. One thousand more pilgrims, from the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in the war, who were already outside Gaza before Rafah was closed, were invited by King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

However, the Gulf kingdom’s minister in charge of religious pilgrimages, Tawfiq al-Rabiah, warned last week that “no political activity” would be tolerated during the event.

This year’s Hajj has also brought Syrian pilgrims to Mecca on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade, part of an ongoing thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and conflict-stricken Syria.

Syrians in rebel-held areas used to cross the border into neighbouring Turkey in their exhausting trip to Mecca for Hajj.

Share this:

Comfort Samuel

I work with TV360 Nigeria, as a broadcast journalist, producer and reporter. I'm so passionate on what I do.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *