EGYPT: Are there hidden motives behind blocking of Gaza aid convoy?
The stranding of the Viva Palestina humanitarian convoy in the Jordanian port of Aqaba since Thursday has prompted speculation over why the group is being prevented entry into the besieged Gaza Strip through Egyptian territories via the Nuweiba port.
Led by British lawmaker George Galloway, the convoy, whose volunteers have topped 500 carrying medical supplies, food and hundreds of trucks and ambulances, departed London on Dec. 6, aiming to reach Gaza on the first anniversary of Israel's bombing of the city on Dec. 26, 2008.
However, their plans were thwarted by Egyptian authorities' refusal to let them enter their country through the port of Nuweiba. Spokesman to the foreign ministry Hossam Zaki said previous regulations state that El Arish port, and not Nuweiba, is the only permissible entry point for humanitarian aid for Gaza.
Such rejection means that the convoy's only way of reaching El-Arish port will be by either crossing the Suez Canal or heading back to Syria to reach the Mediterranean port from there.
Galloway and his crew are still desperate not to miss out on their shorter route and the convoy released a statement, pleading with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to allow their passage via Nuweiba. The Labor Party has also sent another letter to governments of other countries in an attempt to mount international pressure on Egyptian officials.
To add to the pressure, members of the convoy started a hunger strike on Sunday to protest the refusal to let them dock at Nuweiba port.
"Alas, the Egyptian government has placed a series of seemingly arbitrary obstacles in our path. There are no ferry companies that operate from Aqaba with a scheduled route to [El-Arish]. We have no recourse but to use the only route available to us, from Aqaba to Nuweiba," Galloway wrote.
The incident comes less than a week after the Egyptian government was heavily criticized by local media and a number of parliament members and intellectuals over the building of a so-called wall of shame along the Egyptian border with Rafah, the entry point into the Gaza Strip.
Although Egyptian officials insist that the Viva Palestina matter is no more than a regulatory snag, others are starting to see it as part of a systematic attempt to tighten the Israeli siege on Gaza, an ongoing blockade many Egyptians oppose.
A number of newspapers went on to suggest that both the new wall and blocking the convoy are some sort of attempt by Egypt to punish the Palestinian Hamas movement for not brokering a deal for the release of Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit, as well as failing to sign a proposed reconciliation with political rivals Fatah.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: British lawmaker George Galloway. Credit: Getty Images