Egypt to allow 100 protesters into Gaza
By Samer al-Atrush (AFP)
CAIRO — Protest leaders stranded in Cairo accepted an Egyptian offer on Tuesday to allow only 100 out of about 1,300 protesters into blockaded Gaza after the activists staged demonstrations and a hunger strike.
The decision split delegates from more than 40 countries who came to Cairo planning to reach the Palestinian enclave, which shares the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
Some organisers said Egypt's offer was a victory after it initially refused to allow any of the protesters into the Gaza Strip for the Gaza Freedom March, which is scheduled to take place on Thursday.
"It's a partial victory," said Medea Benjamin, an American activist and one of the demonstrations organisers. "It shows that mass pressure has an effect."
They said the foreign ministry offered to let them choose 100 delegates who would be allowed into Gaza. They were due to leave Cairo for Gaza on Wednesday morning.
Activists have staged demonstrations and sit-ins around Cairo to push for entry to Gaza. Dozens of French activists camped out in front of their embassy in Cairo after being refused passage.
The offer, however, angered many of the activists. A French organiser rejected it as divisive and said the sit-in in front of the French embassy would continue.
"This just gives the Egyptian government a photo-up and the chance say we allowed people through," said Bassem Omar, a Canadian protester. Activists left behind in Cairo said they planned further protests.
Egypt had said it barred the protesters because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza. It has refused to permanently open the Rafah crossing since the militant Islamist group Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, prompting Israel's blockade, but opens it for a few days every month.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said earlier at a press conference that his country would allow some of the protesters to enter Gaza.
"We are looking into allowing a limited number...in the coming days," he said. He accused other protesters of "conspiring" against Egypt and said they could remain "on the street."
Egypt has vigorously contested allegations of complicity in the blockade of Gaza, which was devastated last winter during a war between its Hamas rulers and Israel that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
Separately, organisers of another aid convoy trying to reach Gaza -- Viva Palestina led by British MP George Galloway -- said it would head to Syria en route for Egypt after being stranded in Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba for five days.
They had planned to drive to Gaza from the Red Sea port of Nuweiba -- the most direct route -- but Egypt insisted the convoy could only enter through El-Arish, on its Mediterranean coast.