EGYPT: Activists barred from Gaza 'freedom march'
Nearly 300 French activists camped outside their embassy in Cairo to protest against Egyptian authorities' prevention of their journey to El Arish, where they were scheduled to take part in a "freedom march" showing solidarity with Palestinians under siege in Gaza.
The protesters, who were supposed to leave for the coastal city on Sunday morning, were surprised when buses they rented for the trip didn't show up. They were later told by the bus company that authorities had banned the trip.
Consequently, the protesters blocked the road outside the French Embassy, demanding the buses, before security forces threatened them with water cannons.
The French campaigners are part of a larger group of no less than 1,300 activists traveling to Egypt from 42 countries in order to take part in the Gaza Freedom March. Egyptian authorities previously said that none of them would be allowed to carry out the march or enter the Palestinian enclave through its borders.
Authorities have similarly stopped a number of Americans from marking the first anniversary of the Gaza bombings by renting boats on the Nile River. Another commemoration of the war in Gaza was broken up by police at the Kasr El Nil Bridge near downtown Cairo.
Meanwhile, organizers of the freedom march announced that 38 participants were briefly detained by security forces at their hotel inside El Arish (30 miles away from the Gaza border) and at the city's bus station on Sunday afternoon.
"Egyptian security forces eventually yielded, letting most of the marchers leave the hotel, but did not permit them to leave the town. When two younger delegates attempted to leave Al-Arish, authorities stopped their taxi and unloaded their luggage," a statement from the organizers said.
March participants confirmed that they are trying to persuade the Egyptian government to let them proceed with their initial plan. Their efforts included asking for the Arab League's support, as well as visiting a number of foreign embassies and the Egyptian presidential palace to deliver an appeal to President Hosni Mubarak.
Nonetheless, more than 30 Americans were detained by Egyptian security forces inside the U.S. Embassy today while they were seeking help to facilitate negotiations with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in gaining entrance to Gaza with their humanitarian aid.
When asked about the motive behind such detention, Gael Murphy, who's taking part in the march, said she was told by Egyptian officers that the American Embassy called for the officers' help to protect its premises.
Alongside Israel, Egypt has been imposing a blockade on Gaza since Hamas took over the strip in 2007.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Palestinian children near the Egyptian border. Credit: Agence France-Presse