Egypt’s leading Islamic cleric says Hamas has committed an “abominable crime”

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After Hamas prevented Muslims seeking to leave Gaza for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Egypt’s leading cleric Mohamed Tantawi has condemned the move, calling it an “abominable crime.” The outspoken Islamic leader at Al Azhar – the Sunni world’s leading institution – has often condemned suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. “Whoever prevents a Muslim from pilgrimage is committing an abominable crime,” he said in comments carried by the state-run MENA news agency on Tuesday. The Egyptian government has repeatedly said it will open the Rafah Border Crossing, Gaza’s only connection to the outside world, starting on Saturday in order to allow some 3,000 Palestinians to travel to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is one of five major tenets of Islam, which every able Muslim must complete in his or her lifetime. However, Hamas blocked pilgrims who have already received Saudi visas via the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Rafah is the only Gaza border crossing not controlled by Israel, which has implemented an economic blockade on the impoverished territory after Hamas seized power.

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