Activists protest Gaza closures

ANNIVERSARY:Eighty-six international activists were allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah crossing, which is the only terminal not controlled by Israel


Sat, Jan 02, 2010 - Page 6

Hundreds of people including international activists protested on both sides of a Gaza Strip border crossing on Thursday against Israeli closures imposed on the Hamas-ruled territory.

“It’s a non-violent, peaceful gathering and the aim is to show the international community the suffering of the people of Gaza,” said Amjad al-Shawa, a Gaza-based organizer.

The protest was aimed at marking the first anniversary of Israel’s massive offensive in Gaza and the location was chosen in part to highlight ties between the isolated coastal enclave and the occupied West Bank, he said.

Eighty-six international activists were allowed to enter Gaza on Wednesday from Egypt via the Rafah crossing, the only terminal not controlled by Israel, which has been mostly closed since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007.

Another 1,200 activists from about 40 countries remained in Cairo after the Egyptian ­authorities declined to allow the entire group to enter Gaza because of what they called the “sensitive situation” in the Palestinian territory.

Scuffles broke out in Cairo as about 200 activists gathered downtown to protest the decision, with Egyptian police punching and kicking protesters, leaving one with broken ribs, organizers said.

“Members of the Gaza Freedom March are being forcibly detained in hotels around [Cairo] as well as violently forced into pens in Tahrir Square by Egyptian police and additional security forces,” they said in a statement.

The crackdown saw “women being kicked, beaten to the ground and dragged into pens, at least one confirmed account of broken ribs and many left bloody.”

Witnesses said police had punched several activists in the face.

The activists who entered Gaza were meanwhile joined by a few hundred Palestinians as they marched to the Erez crossing with Israel, the main entry and exit point used by medical patients, journalists, diplomats and aid groups.

Among the protesters were a small group of bearded anti-Zionist religious Jews clad in traditional ultra-Orthodox clothing and holding signs that read: “Judaism yes, Zionism no ... State of Israel must go.”

Taher al-Nunu, the spokesman for the Hamas-run government, welcomed the foreign activists as they gathered outside a Palestinian checkpoint a few hundred meters from the border.

“We are not alone in Gaza,” he said. “We have a lot of friends outside of Palestine who came this day to shout against the siege, against the Israeli occupation, against the Israeli crimes here in Gaza and in all Palestine.”

On the Israeli side, a group of dozens of foreign, Israeli and Arab activists waved Palestinian flags outside the entry to the terminal, holding signs reading “Stop the siege now” and “Freedom for Gaza.”

Many of the activists on the Israeli side had traveled on buses from a neighborhood of annexed Arab east Jerusalem that has been the site of recent conflict between Palestinians and hardline Jewish settlers.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, hundreds of demonstrators from several Palestinian factions gathered to call for a lifting of the siege and national unity between Hamas and the secular Fatah party led by president Mahmud Abbas.

Israel and Egypt have sealed the coastal enclave off to all but limited humanitarian aid since Hamas — an armed Islamist group pledged to Israel’s destruction — seized power there, driving Abbas’s forces out.

On Dec. 27, 2008, Israel launched a massive offensive against Gaza in a bid to halt Palestinian rocket and mortar fire. Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the 22-day conflict.