Libyans cut short Israel pilgrimage: Arab protests mar trip to holy sites by worshippers who have Gadaffi's blessing

HIZBOLLAH did not mince its words. The 'evil fool of Libya', the 'Zionist entity' , the 'Western imperialists' and their 'Arab cohorts', were all to blame for yesterday's 'ugly crime'.

But to what was the Iranian- backed Party of God referring? Another bloody outburst in the Middle East conflict? Another assault on Islam? The 'act of treachery' this time was a pilgrimage, hosted by Israel, for nearly 200 Libyan Muslims. The man behind the event was Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, who had allowed the pilgrims to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Muslim feast of sacrifice and redemption - Eid al- Adha.

It was an event which for Israel held out the prospect of reconciliation with a number one Arab enemy - but which collapsed amid scenes of unprecedented farce. The group arrived on Monday expressing nothing but joy to be on their way to the holy sites. But by yesterday evening the pilgrims had been reviled by fellow Muslims at the al-Aqsa mosque, and disowned by their Israeli hosts for calling for the 'liberation of Jerusalem'. This morning they were making the 1,800-mile trek, overland, back home.

By allowing the 'Libyan tour' (fixed up by the Saudi Arabian financier Adnan Khashoggi and Yaacov Nimrodi, an Israeli businessman) Mr Gaddafi was breaking every rule in the Arab book. He was accepting Israeli hospitality on occupied soil and, worse, he was acknowledging the state's role as custodian of Muslim holy sites.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation said it was 'shocked and dismayed' by the Libyan move.

An unguarded Israel, however, had blithely welcomed the pilgrimage. Ministers said they hoped soon to welcome Mr Gaddafi himself to Jerusalem.

As soon as it began the pilgrimage went wrong. At the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims, the pilgrims were harassed by Palestinians who accused them of recognising Israel by coming to Jerusalem to pray.

The Libyans then held an impromptu press conference in their five-star Israeli hotel, built on Arab soil, in east Jerusalem. They insisted their motives were pure. They insisted also they had only come to Jerusalem because Saudi Arabia had barred them from Mecca. Saudi Arabia enforces a United Nations embargo against Libya, instituted when Mr Gaddafi refused to hand over two Libyans for trial in connection with the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Turning from prayers to politics, the delegation leader, Dow Salem Tajouri, then announced: 'On this occasion we call on all Muslims in this world to participate in liberating Jerusalem, which ought to be the capital of the Palestinian state.' He then attacked Saudi Arabia which he said was also 'occupied', urging 'holy fighters' to liberate Mecca and Medina. He added that Russian and Ethiopian Jews should be sent home from Israel and announced his support for the Palestinian intifada.

Israel had no choice then but to wash its hands of its difficult guests. The Prime Minister's spokesman, Gad Ben Ari, said the Libyans were not being expelled. 'The decision to leave was taken by the pilgrims. We were not involved,' he said.

The Tourism Minister, Uzi Baram, ordered his staff to sever contacts with the Libyans. Several MPs called for their expulsion, while the leader of the far-right Tsomet party, Rafael Eytan, said Mr Baram and the Police Minister, Moshe Shahal, had been given 'the slap they deserved'. Mr Shahal has disclosed secret contacts between Israel and Libya.

But last night the question remained: what were Mr Gaddafi's motives? Was he courting the United States' favour by cosying up to Israel, seeking forgiveness after the Lockerbie affair? Were there other motives which are not yet clear? Or was he just playing the maverick again, reminding the world he was still there?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Recruitment Genius: Water Jetting / HGV Driver - Industrial Services

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Skilled Labouring staff with id...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot