By Mohamed Hikal
By Mohamed Hikal
Approximately 175,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will be denied access to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, the Middle East Eye reported.
The Saudi foreign ministry announced the decision, which went into force on September 12. The Saudi consulate in Lebanon told travel agencies in Lebanon to stop issuing visas for Palestinian refugees with passports bearing no national citizenship number, the newspaper stated.
However, according to an official in the Saudi Consulate in Beirut, Palestinian refugees wishing to participate in the hajj or umrah, which is the Islamic pilgrimage performed at any time of the year except hajj, will have to request the documents from the Palestinian Authority. They can get a visa on a Palestinian Authority passport.
Conversely, officials at the Palestinian Authority embassy in Beirut stated that they have never issued and never will provide visas for Palestinians holding passports of other Arab countries. Officials said Saudi Arabia did not inform them of the decision officially, and they have no official directions in this regard.
Due to Saudi Arabia’s restricting Palestinian refugees’ freedom to move and perform their religious rites, the Palestinian ambassador in Riyadh, Basem Abdullah al-Agha, is working along with the Palestinian embassy in Beirut together with the Saudi embassy in Beirut and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find a solution.
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon can apply for a temporary Lebanese passport. However, holders of this temporary document are not entitled to the full rights of Lebanese citizenship.
The Saudi decision is expected to add salt to injury. Unlike the few Palestinians who have full Lebanese citizenship, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon will be confirmed as second class citizens with fewer rights.
The move may remind Palestinians of a similar crisis when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Jerusalem were barred from entering Mecca and Medina.
Since 1948, large numbers of Palestinians took refuge in Lebanon to escape the violence in their home country.