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Libyans Call an Early End to Unprecedented Jerusalem Trip : Mideast: Local Arabs harassed them at mosque, travel agent says. But pilgrims' leader merely says journey is 'finished.'

June 02, 1993| From Reuters

JERUSALEM — Libyans decided to cut short their unprecedented pilgrimage to Jerusalem after local Arabs obstructed their tour of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, an Israeli travel agent said Tuesday.

"They are leaving before they were scheduled to leave. They will leave tomorrow morning," said Meyer Kaplan, managing director of Ziyara International, the travel agency that organized their trip. The pilgrims had been scheduled to stay until Thursday.

Kaplan said that group leader Daoud Salem Tajouri informed him that the 192 pilgrims had been harassed by Palestinians who oppose their visit.

But asked if the early departure was a response to anything in particular, Tajouri said: "No, none whatsoever." He told reporters without elaborating, "We have finished our trip and want to go home."

The Monday arrival of the Libyans via an Israeli crossing in the occupied Gaza Strip for a four-day pilgrimage stunned Arabs. Many Palestinians saw it as a move toward normalizing relations between Libya and Israel.

However, Tajouri earlier called for the "liberation of Jerusalem" from Israeli occupation and assailed Saudi Arabia for barring his group from a pilgrimage to Mecca.

"From here, we call on Muslims from all over the world to contribute to the liberation of Jerusalem, which must be the capital of the Palestinian state," he said.

"Since the holy places in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are all occupied, there is no difference between going to Mecca or coming to Jerusalem," Tajouri told a news conference in Jerusalem to the applause of other pilgrims.

In Beirut on Tuesday, Lebanon's pro-Iranian Hezbollah condemned the Libyan pilgrimage as an "uglier crime" than the landmark 1977 trip by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

A Hezbollah (Party of God) spokesman said "this treacherous act" by the Libyans represented an "agreement between the evil fool of Libya (leader Moammar Kadafi) and between the Americans, the rulers of Egypt and the Jews."

A Palestine Liberation Organization official in Amman said the pilgrimage was a premature step toward normalizing relations and a futile effort to curry favor with the West.

In Jerusalem on Tuesday, a group of right-wing Jewish settlers demonstrated at the hotel where the Libyan visitors were staying, demanding that they leave Israel immediately.

Israeli officials viewed the visit as an attempt by Kadafi to ease the international isolation imposed by the United Nations to force Libya to hand over two of its nationals accused of involvement in the bombing of a Pan American airliner over Scotland in 1988.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, breaking ranks with the West over contacts with Libya, said Israel would give a warm welcome to Kadafi if he decided to visit.

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