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Egyptian police clash with Gaza aid convoy

Jan. 6, 2010 12:10 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 7, 2010 10:27 A.M.)
Jerusalem - Ma'an – Hundreds of riot police used water cannons to disperse members of a British-led aid convoy taking aid to Gaza when they blocked the entrance to the Egyptian port of Al-Arish in protest on Tuesday night.

The protest reportedly began when Egypt demanded that some of the vehicles in the convoy enter Gaza through an Israeli-controlled crossing point.

A Reuters reporter saw police throwing stones and firing water cannons at the 500-strong group of protesters. More than 50 people were reported injured in the violence. Several were also reported arrested.

British MP George Galloway, who was travelling with the convoy, said Israel was likely to block the shipment of aid. "It is completely unconscionable that 25% of our convoy should go to Israel and never arrive in Gaza."

"This late afternoon we were negotiating with a senior official from Cairo who left negotiations some two hours ago and did not return. Our negotiations with the official [were] regarding taking our aid vehicles into Gaza," Viva Palestina convoy leader Kevin Ovenden, said in a statement.

"We have now blocked the entrance to the port and we are now faced with riot police and water cannons and are determined to defend our vehicles and aid," he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, convoy spokeswoman Alice Howard told Ma'an that the delegation was due to arrive at the Rafah crossing with their vehicles carrying humanitarian and medical aid on Tuesday, 2pm local time. "The Egyptian authorities have by their stubbornness and hostility towards the convoy, brought us to a crisis point."

Meanwhile, internationals reported provocative actions on the part of Egypt's security establishment.

Four members of the Viva Palestina group were reportedly pulled off a bus in Ismaliya en route to Gaza, while a US citizen reported harassment near Al-Arish. A witness said two Turkish nationals were detained, and that other groups of five and seven were stranded for hours before they were sent to Cairo.

Bus drivers said they were aware of the issue, as well, turning away foreigners to avoid the hassle.

Michelle Lanz, an American scientist doing research on Gaza's water infrastructure, said she was pulled off a public bus and detained at the Mubarak peace bridge, near the Suez Canal, on Tuesday afternoon. "They pulled me off, only me, saying, 'You're going back to Cairo.' They made me pay for it, by the way," she explained over the phone, stranded on the road leading to Al-Arish.

Lanz returned the next day, that time with a letter from the US embassy in Cairo explaining her professional business in Gaza, but was inexplicably detained again. "The Viva Palestina convoy is coming," she noted, speculating that Egypt's Foreign Ministry, which has thus far obstructed the large aid shipment's arrival, has begun targeting all foreign nationals to make sure no one slips in unnoticed.

The blanket ban on foreigners even approaching the besieged coastal enclave apparently also includes Palestinians with dual nationality. A Gaza native with a Swiss passport was reportedly separated from his mother, and had to return to Cairo on the basis of his second citizenship.
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