GAZA, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Egypt has stranded two boats of Palestinian pilgrims in the Red Sea, demanding the travelers return home through an Israeli-controlled border crossing.
The demand by the Egyptian government that the nearly 2,000 pilgrims travel through the Aouja border crossing has been intensified by reports that several top Hamas officials are on board the maritime vessels, the BBC reported Saturday.
The reported presence of the militant officials has prompted Hamas to accuse Egypt of bowing to pressure from Israel regarding the pilgrims.
"We are aware of the Israeli and American pressures on Egypt, and we urge Egypt to reject these pressures and to allow the pilgrims a safe return through Rafah," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said.
The pilgrims were returning to Gaza following their annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and have remained stranded at the Red Sea port the past two days, the BBC said.
Meanwhile, conditions on board the two ferries reportedly have deteriorated, leaving some ailing passengers without medication.