By Heba Saleh, Financial Times – 28 Dec 2009
Egypt has blocked a humanitarian aid convoy for Gaza and barred more than 1,000 international campaigners from visiting the territory, writes Heba Saleh in Cairo.
The campaigners want to gain access to Gaza via the Rafah border crossing to show solidarity with the Palestinians on the first anniversary of Israel’s military operation against the enclave,
Some 150 aid trucks organised by the Viva Palestina campaign led by George Galloway, a British member of parliament, are stuck in the Jordanian port of Aqaba, because the Egyptian authorities have refused to grant them permission to enter the country through the nearby Red Sea port of Nuweiba.
Egypt says the convoy would be allowed to enter Egypt only if it arrived in the port of Al Arish on the Mediterranean coast because that is the approved “mechanism” for delivering aid to Gaza. This would add days and costs to the journey, as it will entail hiring ships and sailing around the Sinai peninsula through the Suez canal.
Egypt has also separately barred 1,300 campaigners from travelling overland from Cairo to Gaza to join a march with local people to publicise the plight of the besieged Gazans.
The decisions are likely to stoke further criticism of the Egyptian government by an electorate uneasy about the country’s participation in the blockade against Gaza. The unease deepened this month after it emerged that Egypt has been constructing what is described as an underground steel wall along the 14-kilometre border to prevent the supply of goods and weapons to Gaza through smugglers’ tunnels.
The foreign minister was quoted as saying that any construction work being undertaken was to protect Egyptian national security.