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Pilgrims Returning from Hajj Stranded in Boats Off Gaza Coast

About 2,300 Muslim pilgrims returning from the Hajj — the yearly trek to Mecca — were stranded in two ferry boats in the Red Sea off the Egyptian coast on Saturday. The passengers believed they would be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian-Palestinian-controlled Rafah crossing point when they left the Jordanian port of Aqaba. But Egyptian authorities re-routed the boats, insisting that they disembark for entry through the Kerem Shalom point, which is controlled by Israel. Because many of the passengers are associated with Hamas and are wanted by Israel, they refused the Egyptian instructions and a stalemate ensued. As the stalemate continued, conditions on board the boats worsened. A spokesman for Hamas has accused Egypt of bowing to "American and Zionist pressure."