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.


Kais Saied wins Tunisia presidency with 72.71 percent: commission

Updated 29 min 5 sec ago

Kais Saied wins Tunisia presidency with 72.71 percent: commission

  • Saied garnered 2.7 million votes against one million received by his rival business tycoon Nabil Karoui in Sunday's runoff, the commission said

TUNIS: Tunisia's election commission said a preliminary count shows conservative law professor Kais Saied has won the country's presidential election by a significant margin.
The commission reported Monday that Saied, who hasn't held elected office before, received 72.71% of the vote. His opponent, media mogul Nabil Karoui, got 27.29%.
The results confirm exit polls from Sunday's election.
Nabil Bafoun, head of the electoral commission, said "by looking at the result ... and knowing that it represents an absolute majority for this second round of the presidential elections, we, the Tunisian electoral commission, declare Mister Kais Saied winner of the presidential elections."
The commission said that Saied got a majority of the votes in each of the 33 electoral districts. He exceeded 90% in six traditionally very conservative southern districts.
The 61-year-old Saied is an independent outsider but has support from moderate party Ennahdha, which won Tunisia's parliamentary election last week.
He has promised to overhaul the country's governing structure to give more power to young people and local governments.
Karoui, 56, told supporters Sunday the race wasn't over because his legal team would explore options. He was arrested Aug. 23 in a corruption investigation and released with only two days left to campaign.
French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Saied for his election in a phone call Monday and wished him "success for Tunisia."
Macron stressed the Tunisian people's "democratic mobilization" over the past several weeks. He told Saied that he intends to pursue and enhance the partnership between the two countries.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi congratulated the Tunisian people and the elected president in a written statement.
If no legal action is taken to challenge the results, the electoral body is set to announce the definitive vote count on Thursday. Tunisia's parliament will then hold an extraordinary session during which the newly elected president will be sworn in and will formally start his five-year term.
The presidential vote was held early following the July death in office of President Beji Caid Essebsi.