Saturday, December 26, 2009
Gaza Aid Convoy Awaits Egypt Nod
By: Lawrence Smallman
Source: Al Jazeera
An aid convoy that has traveled over 3500km to deliver vital medical and food supplies to the Gaza Strip is currently stranded because of Egypt's refusal to grant it easy passage.
The Viva Palestina convoy, made up of almost 250 lorries, remained in the Jordanian port of Aqaba on Saturday, having waited over 48 hours to board ferries for the Egyptian Red Sea port of Nuweiba.
But Egypt has so far insisted that the aid be delivered through its Mediterranean port of El-Arish, a much longer journey that would require the convoy to go around the Sinai peninsula and through the Suez Canal.
George Galloway, a British politician leading the convoy, on Saturday appealed to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, to allow the lorries through before medical and food supplies were ruined by the heat.
"Please President Mubarak - let us resolve this matter. We can only sail through Nuweiba. We are only four hours away from Gaza," Galloway told Al Jazeera.
"We have this aid, and the people of Gaza need it on the anniversary on the 27th December - a year after Israel's 22-day bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory.
"All fingers should be pointing at Israel, not getting confused and pointing at Egypt", Galloway said.
But Maged Botros, a member of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, told Al Jazeera that the government in Cairo has every right to specify the port by which Viva Palestina enters its territory.
"We are talking about 250 trucks passing along this critical territory [the Israeli-Egyptian border] - it is technically so difficult to allow.
"There are good reasons not to allow them through Nuweiba ... these trucks might create a big infiltration problem for Egyptian security forces", he said.
But convoy members told Al Jazeera that traveling through the Suez was not a viable option, as passengers are not allowed to go with cargo ships and that the port of El-Arish is too shallow to take the size of ship needed to transport the aid.
Zuber Hatia, who has driven thousands of kilometers from the British city of Portsmouth, said there was a symbolic reason why Viva Palestina cannot make the extra long journey to El-Arish.
"We are only a four hour ferry ride and a four hour drive from Gaza - we have to be there by 11:35am on 27th December - the first anniversary of Israel's war on Gaza", Hatia said.
"So though we have all the cargo manifests, we have to just sit, wait and hope. Unfortunately, the Egyptians I have spoken to say this is a 'political aid convoy' rather than a humanitarian aid convoy - and that makes all the difference," Hatia said.
"And though the Jordanians are being very kind to us while we wait, the fact is our trucks are impounded in a car park 30km from the port with tones of medicines spoiling in this Middle Eastern heat.
"Please Mubarak, let our people go!", Hatia said.