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Following clashes, convoy enters Gaza

Jan. 6, 2010 2:51 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 7, 2010 2:58 P.M.)
Gaza – Ma’an – Medical aid and 518 activists entered Gaza Wednesday night after protests against the Egyptian government refusal to admit 400 of the group lead to clashes along the divided border town.

An Egyptian soldier was shot dead during the clashes, Egyptian state television reported, and at least 12 Palestinians were injured during a a demonstration against perceived Egyptian complicity in an Israeli-led blockade called by the de facto government of the Strip as they denounced what they said were attacks on the Viva Palestina convoy.

Following the demonstration, some 50 people broke away from the crowd of hundreds, pelting Egyptian troops with stones.

The soldiers opened fire on the crowd, wounding two people, according to medics. Ten people were also hurt in a stampede of protesters fleeing the gunfire. Ambulances raced to the scene to retrieve the wounded.

A Ma’an reporter saw Hamas security officers moving in on pickup trucks, forming a cordon in between the protesters and the border. The officers ordered the protesters to disperse through loudspeakers, warning that provocateurs were trying to escalate the protest into a clash with Egypt.

Egyptian security sources told Ma’an in Al-Arish that a state of alert was declared on the border, and hundreds of troops were sent to the area known as Salah Ad-Din.

Activists, Medical Aid enter Gaza

Despite the violence, Egyptian officials opened the Rafah border for the convoy, allowing dozens of vehicles, activists and medical aid into the Gaza Strip. Organizers said in a statement following the entry that the group was met by large crowds.

The 220 trucks and ambulances, filled with tons of medical aid, will be handed over to Gaza hospitals. Convoy spokeswoman Alice Howard said the convoy members were given 48-hour permits for Gaza.

Egypt-Convoy tension

On Tuesday night more than 50 international activists were wounded in clashes with riot police in the Egyptian port town of Al-Arish, some 40 kilometers from Gaza. Police threw stones and trained water cannons on more than 500 members of the Viva Palestina convoy, including British MP George Galloway.

Members of the convoy said they blocked the entrance to the Al-Arish port when the Egyptian government demanded that some vehicles of the convoy enter Gaza through an Israeli checkpoint.

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," Galloway told Reuters news agency.

Hamas angrily denounced the violence. “This attack shows that there is no Egyptian will to end blockade or even deliver aid to the besieged people in the Gaza Strip,” movement spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

Israel sealed its borders with Gaza following Hamas’ June 2007 takeover of the territory, causing shortages of vital goods, including fuel and all but 36 types of food items. Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are also largely banned from travelling.

Egypt has come under fire recently for playing a role in the blockade, including building a steel wall along its border with Gaza to cut off smuggling tunnels dug to import goods made scarce by the siege. The wall has also strained relations between Hamas and Egypt.

Egypt however dismissed Hamas’ criticism on Tuesday.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Husam Zaki said Fawzi Barhoum’s comments “were sarcastic.”

He told the London-based Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, “Barhoum’s comments about Egyptian security violating sovereignty of 40 countries who have representatives in the Lifeline convoy mean that Barhoum has no idea about the meaning of sovereignty, and if he has any idea, I herby tell him that Egypt’s sovereignty is above all.”

“Does sovereignty mean demolishing the main gate of Al-Arish terminal? Or does it mean damaging platforms to use the tiles as stones to pelt them at Egyptian security?” Zaki said.

He added, “I am sure that if Egyptian authorities had allowed entry of the fancy private cars which are part of the convoy, he would have changed his mind. If these cars which will eventually serve the upper class in Gaza were allowed, he wouldn’t have said what he said.”
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