EGYPT: Soldier killed amid ongoing clashes on Gaza border
A 21-year-old Egyptian soldier was shot dead in the middle of confrontations today between hundreds of armed Palestinian protesters and Egyptian security forces on the border between Gaza and Egypt, the foreign ministry said.
Demonstrations broke out less than a day after tens of international activists and policemen were injured during clashes between members of the Viva Palestina humanitarian delegation and Egyptian security forces at the port city of El Arish, 30 miles south of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Egyptian officials said the violence should be a warning to all who are critical of Cairo's handling of border security.
"This is a shame to all Palestinians and Gaza residents, as well as to those who claim that they control the Gaza strip," said Hossam Zaki, spokesman for the foreign ministry.
"Egypt knows how to control and restrain forces on its side of the borders," he added. "Palestinians should appreciate and understand this well."
Angry protesters denounced Egypt's decision to build a new barrier along its border with Gaza to prevent the smuggling of weapons, as well as its banning of some 1,300 foreign campaigners to join the Gaza Freedom March last week.
Tuesday's violence broke out when members of the Viva Palestina convoy – composed of more than 500 volunteers and nearly 200 trucks carrying food and medical supplies to besieged Gaza – broke the port's gate after they became infuriated by authorities' sudden decision to transfer much of their aid to Gaza through an Israeli checkpoint.
Egyptian officials announced that only 139 vehicles would be permitted the drive to Gaza via the Rafah crossing, while the remaining trucks would pass to the strip through Israel.
"It is unacceptable and we have refused this," said the colorful and outspoken British MP and leader of the convoy, George Galloway. "It is completely unconscionable that 25% of our convoy should go to Israel and never arrive in Gaza. Because nothing that ever goes to Israel, ever arrives in Gaza."
As a result of breaking down the gate, Egyptian security forces used stones and water cannons to break up the crowd. Dozens were injured on both sides, seven protesters were arrested and four harbor police officers were held by demonstrators in the process.
"We started getting pelted with stones by people in plainclothes, then the police started moving in, using tear gas and batons. People were quite severely beaten," said Alexandra Phillips, a 37-year-old Londoner participating in the convoy.
"I have 42 people in my team, and out of those three have been injured," she said. "There are head injuries, cuts."
Viva Palestina had already reached Al Arish one week later than the originally scheduled Dec. 26 arrival, the first anniversary of Israel's bombing of Gaza city.
However, authorities' refusal to allow them an entry to Egypt from Jordan via the port of Aqaba forced them to take a longer route back to the Mediterranean port of Lattakia in Syria toward El Arish.
Gaza has been under siege by both Egypt and Israel since Hamas took control of the strip in 2007. The Rafah crossing is opened a few days every month to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Members of the Viva Palestina convoy. Credit: Reuters