600 Israelis Travel to Egypt for Pilgrimage

600 Israelis Travel to Egypt for Pilgrimage

Cairo airport officials said some 290 Israelis arrived on Tuesday on their way to the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira near the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. The commemoration of the anniversary of his death will take place Saturday.

The number of Israelis who came to Egypt this year to attend the anniversary of the Rabbi’s death reached 564 on Wednesday morning and is expected to exceed 600 amid tight security at hotels and along their path to the Demitu Center in Damanhour.

Security sources said at Cairo International Airport said that among the Israelis who had arrived yesterday, there were 40 rabbis and Jewish clergy, and that the Egyptian security authorities have taken all necessary actions to insure their safety. The authorities have secured their arrival at Cairo Airport, places of residence, Egyptian hotels as well as securing access to the Demitu Center for Damanhur, stressing that the security arrangements will continue at the highest level until the end of the celebrations.

Security forces prevented journalists from accessing the area and have police cars ready to transport journalists outside the city of Damanhur

Egyptian political activists were planning to protest in the Al Behira Governorate, however the security suppressed demonstrations before they began and arrested 3 activists from the Kefaya Movement, though they were released on Wednesday.

The elderly Rabbi Abuhatzeira was making his way from his native Morocco to the Holy Land in 1879 when he fell ill and died in the Egyptian city of Damanhour.

In the winter of 1879, Rabbi Yaakov wound his way from Morocco through Algeria, Tunisia and Libya on his way to the land of Israel when he passed away in Damanhour, Egypt. He was buried in Nekraha and is commemorated with a pilgrimage to his burial site on the 19th day of the Jewish month of Tevet each year. By Egyptian law, visitors are only allowed at the site during the days surrounding the annual pilgrimage.

Egypt has, in recent years, allowed a limited number of pilgrims to the celebration. Israeli newspapers say, however, that President Hosni Mubarak accepted a request from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on his visit to Egypt last week to allow an unlimited number in the future.

Last year, Egypt refused to permit Israelis to come to the gravesite as a result of Israel’s counter terrorism campaign in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead.

The Israeli Consul General in Alexandria, Hassan Ka’abia, said at least 600 Israelis have applied for visas to come this year, with more Jews coming from around the world, especially from France.

**reporting by Mohamed Abdel Salam