800 Palestinians allowed to exit Gaza to perform Umrah

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Palestinians Muslim pilgrims sit in a bus at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on March 3, 2019, before crossing to depart for Makkah to perform Umrah. (AFP)
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A Palestinian Muslim pilgrim hugs a relative prior to boarding a bus at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on March 3, 2019, before crossing to depart for Makkah to perform the ritual Umrah pilgrimage for the first time since 2014. (AFP)
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Palestinians Muslim pilgrims are led to board a bus at the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on March 3, 2019, before crossing to depart for Makkah to perform the ritual Umrah pilgrimage for the first time since 2014. (AFP)
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A Palestinian Muslim pilgrim waits for a bus en route to Rafah border between Gaza Strip and Egypt before leaving for Umrah, in Gaza City, Saturday, March 2, 2019. (AP)
Updated 03 March 2019

800 Palestinians allowed to exit Gaza to perform Umrah

  • Umrah is the lesser pilgrimage to Makkah that can be completed throughout the year, as opposed to the annual Hajj pilgrimage
  • Security sources on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing confirmed it was the first such permission for umrah since the start of Egyptian military operations in northern Sinai in 2014

GAZA CITY: Some 800 Palestinians crossed Sunday from the Gaza Strip into Egypt on the initial stage of a minor pilgrimage to Makkah known as the “Umrah,” the first time since 2014 Egyptian authorities have granted visas for such a trip.
The pilgrims left at around dawn and were to be met by buses on the Egyptian side to bring them to Cairo’s airport, from where they would fly to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, said a Palestinian official at the Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip.
Fifteen Gazans among the 800 were not authorized to cross, according to a Palestinian security official at Rafah, without providing the reasons.
Security sources on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing confirmed it was the first such permission for the Umrah pilgrimage since the start of Egyptian military operations in northern Sinai in 2014.
Umrah is the lesser pilgrimage to Makkah that can be completed throughout the year, as opposed to the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Around 2,500 pilgrims are authorized annually to leave Gaza via Egypt for the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam that Muslims must undertake at least once in their lifetime.
Since the overthrow of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013, Egypt has faced an extremist insurgency in North Sinai.
Last year, Egypt’s military launched a major offensive against the militants, though Cairo has for years considered the entire area a security priority.
Gaza, run by Hamas, has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade. Gaza militants and Israel have fought three wars since 2008.
The Rafah crossing with Egypt is the only one out of Gaza not controlled by Israel. It had been largely closed in recent years, but was reopened some 10 months ago.
Around 300 travelers use it daily in either direction, according to figures dating to December provided by the Gisha NGO, which monitors the blockade on Gaza.


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 50 min 48 sec ago

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.