RAFAH, GAZA STRIP – After long delays, street protests and even clashes with Egyptian security, the Lifeline 3 aid convoy finally crossed into the sealed off Gaza Strip on Wednesday, January 6, through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing.
The nearly 200-vehicle aid convoy, which left London on December 6, arrived in al-Arish on Monday after a dispute with Cairo on the route, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).
After a series of delays it ended up stuck in Al-Arish, while waiting for government permission to cross into Gaza.
Organizers said protests between activists and Egyptian security forces broke out when Egyptian authorities insisted the food and other supplies in the convoy to pass through an Israeli-controlled checkpoint.
The activists preferred the goods to be transported via Egypt’s Rafah crossing, which sits directly on the border of Gaza.
The convoy’s passage came after a Turkey-brokered deal between members of the convoy and Egypt.
Under the compromise aid deal, 158 trucks will be allowed through Rafah, but 40 private cars in the convoy would have to stay in Egypt for a month for security procedures and then pass through into Gaza via an Israeli checkpoint.
The aid convoy is carrying items ranging from heart monitors to clothing and dental equipment.
It is accompanied by international activists who call for an end to the siege on Gaza, including British lawmaker George Galloway and 17 Turkish legislators.
Israel has been sealing off the coastal enclave, home to nearly 1.6 million people, since Hamas was voted into power in the 2006 legislative elections.
The aid convoy crossed into Gaza after a day of clashes that broke out at the border between Palestinian protestors and Egyptian security forces.
According to witnesses and medics, Egyptian forces opened fire to disperse stone-throwing protesters who had gathered on the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing to protest frustration over the delays.
Egyptian officials said a soldier was shot by gunfire from the Palestinian side in the clashes.
The stand off was described as "regrettable" by officials in Gaza.
"We are not interested in raising tension at the border," said spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum was harsher in his criticism accusing Egyptian authorities of "reinforcing the siege on Gaza".
"Around 40 Arab, Islamic and European states have mobilized financial and media support to lift the siege imposed on Gaza Strip," Barhoum told Al Jazeera.
"Why does not Egypt go along this path of solidarity with Gaza Strip? Such practices are outrageous, inhumane and unethical."
Overnight, Egyptian security forces and members of the convoy threw stones at each other when tempers frayed over the route the trucks were to take.
This left more than 55 activists and 9 members of the security forces injured and some sixty convoy-members arrested.
Many of those injured were "quite severely beaten, with head injuries," Alice Howard, spokeswoman for the group of about 500 international activists, told BBC.
Cairo has imposed strict regulations and restrictions on pro-Palestinian foreign activists who have held protests in Egypt since late December to mark the first anniversary of Israel’s three-week war on Gaza.
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)