By Mohamed el-Sawwaf – Rafah
To the ovation of thousands of jubilant Palestinians, an aid convoy led by British lawmaker George Galloway arrived in the besieged Gaza Strip on Monday, March 9.
"(I’m here) to meet the heroes of Palestine’s resistance, the government of Palestine, the people of Palestine," Galloway told reporters.
Galloway said he was overwhelmed with happiness to arrive in Gaza on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad and in the wake of Israel’s deadly offensive.
"I have entered Palestine many times but the most emotional of these is after the 22-day genocidal aggression against the Palestinian people," Galloway, who kneeled down to kiss Gaza ground, said, referring to the Israeli war that came to a halt on January 18.
More than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed and 5,450 wounded in 22 days of air, land and sea attacks in Gaza.
The onslaught, which inflicted heavy damage on Gaza infrastructure, left nearly 20,000 homes and thousands other buildings damaged.
Thousands of Palestinians gathered at Rafah crossing to receive the convoy, organized by the Viva Palestine umbrella group.
Jubilant Palestinians blared out drums in celebration of the convoy, which was set out from London last month and carries aid worth more than one million pounds ($1.4 million), 12 ambulances and a fire engine.
The convoy was temporarily halted in Egypt when Cairo authorities learned that it was also bearing non-medical aid destined for the impoverished coastal territory’s 1.6 million residents.
While waiting to cross in the Egyptian town of El-Arish near the border, the convoy was vandalized and pelted with stones, according to organizers.
Gaza has been under a crippling Israeli siege since Hamas seized power in 2006.
"We Are Palestinians"
Galloway said the aid will be presented to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who represents the Palestinians despite US-British opposition.
"We are all Palestinians," he shouted.
He said that the Palestinian people have voted for Hamas and that their voice should be respected.
Led by the US, the West has rejected contacts with Hamas since the group swept Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and came to power.
They link any talks with Hamas to its recognition of Israel, acceptance of signed peace agreements and end of what is described as "violence" against Israel.
Last month, a group of former international peace negotiators called for a re-think of the West’s Hamas isolation policy and to engage the group in the peace process.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also urged the West to respect the democratic Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power.
Galloway said the aid convoy is meant to unveil to the world the scale of the Palestinian suffering because of the Israeli siege.
He stressed that Britain is not an enemy to the Muslim nation, adding that Quartet envoy Tony Blair, a staunch supporter of the Hamas isolation policy, does not represent the British people.
"We are the representatives of the British people," Galloway stressed.