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EGYPT: Aid convoy enters Gaza, without aid

June 8, 2010 | 12:01 pm

After being stranded at the Rafah border crossing for nearly 24 hours, nine members of the Egyptian Parliament were told Tuesday that the construction materials they had hauled for hundreds of miles would not be permitted into the Gaza Strip. The politicians had little choice but to walk in alone.

Organized by the Muslim Brotherhood and two independent MPs, the convoy included several trucks carrying 1,000 tons of steel and 5,000 thousand tons of cement, items not considered humanitarian aid. The fleet was stopped numerous times on its way to Rafah for what with authorities called "security reasons." The trucks eventually were confiscated and denied entry into the Palestinian enclave.

The politicians staged a sit-in at the crossing's gates Monday and Tuesday. Pleas to the leadership of the Egyptian lower parliament, People's Assembly, to intervene failed to persuade authorities to release the confiscated goods. Convoy members accompanied by journalists eventually had to settle for entering Gaza on foot.

"We’ve suffered a lot of obstacles from security authorities since we instigated our route to Rafah," Muslim Brotherhood MP Mohamed Beltagi said. He added that his fellow convoy members were committed to entering Gaza in order to "deliver an important message of solidarity from all Egyptians against Gaza's blockade."

Egyptian officials said that only the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has the authority to ship construction materials into Gaza. Israel claims that building supplies would strengthen Hamas, the militant group that controls the strip.  

Egypt weakened Israel's blockade of Gaza by opening Rafah crossing gates last week after nine activists were killed following a raid by Israeli commandos on a six-ship Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla last week. Egypt, which also opposes Hamas, has allowed the border to be opened only a few days a month, but Arab outcry after the flotilla incident forced it to open the border of an indefinite time.  

Since then, hundreds of Palestinians have flooded Egypt. A top Egyptian security official told AFP that the crossing will remain open, adding that a decision to close it will be taken only in case "any violations occur" from the Hamas side.

Hamas has been in charge of Gaza since it successfully ousted the Palestinian authority from the strip in 2007, leading to the joint blockade by Egypt and Israel.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian MPs walking past Rafah crossing. Credit: Reuters