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Pro-Gaza protesters 'besieged' in Cairo

Dec. 28, 2009 4:16 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 29, 2009 3:26 P.M.)
London – Ma’an – Surrounded by police, an international group of human rights advocates staged a demonstration at a UN installation in Cairo on Monday after the Egyptian government denied their request to enter Gaza.

Former EU parliament vice president Luisa Morgantini, Filipino Senator and president of the Transnational Institute Walden Bello and others held a news conference outside the UN building in Cairo in hopes to negotiate their entry in Gaza via the Rafah crossing.

Another member of the Gaza Freedom March group, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstien, 85, declared a hunger strike in protest of Egypt’s decision. More than 600 others joined the demonstration at the UN building, one of the event’s organizers told Ma’an in a telephone interview.

“We have a lot of police surrounding us – we are besieged,” Ziyaad Lunat said, speaking from outside the UN compound on Cairo’s Mourad Street.

“It is a visual show. We are camping [outside the UN building] and so many different banners are flying.”

Lunat added that the demonstrators are surrounded by hundreds of Egyptian guards and will remain outside the UN building until the negotiations are complete.

The Gaza Freedom March delegates, a group of 1,400 activists from 42 countries, intended to enter Gaza with humanitarian aid to commemorate Israel’s Cast Lead operation.

The group was meant to leave for Rafah via Al-Arish on Monday, but were told that Egyptian security forces would not allow busses to take transport them. Egypt informed the group they could not travel due to the "sensitive situation" along the Gaza border.

Negotiations are underway to allow the transit of the delegates into Gaza, where they intend to march to Israel’s Erez crossing on 31 December to bring an end to blockade on the coastal strip.

Meanwhile, several hundred French activists who amassed on Sunday in front of the French embassy in Cairo, demanding that buses be allowed to take them to the Rafah crossing, remain camped out in front of the embassy in an attempt to secure their entry into Gaza.

The activists, from the solidarity group EuroPalestine, erected several tents in front of the French embassy. The French Ambassador, as a result, met with the activists to negotiate on their behalf, a statement released by the US anti-war group CODEPINK, which organized the Gaza Freedom March.

Lunat said that the “French Ambassador has promised to help.”

Olivia Zemor, the coordinator of the French group said in the statement, “we are waiting for the buses, we are staying in front of the French embassy, even if it’s not comfortable, it’s much more comfortable than Gaza.”

The commotion in Cairo also comes amid controversy around Egypt’s construction of a steel wall along the border with Gaza intended to cut of underground smuggling tunnels.

The tunnels represent a lifeline for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, who rely on them to import food, fuel, medicine, and other goods made scarce by two and a half years of an Israeli blockade.
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