While we continue to remain active here in Cairo, protesting the Egyptian government’s refusal to allow the Gaza Freedom March to enter Gaza, hundreds of participants are staging imaginative displays of solidarity.
An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was among a group of grandmothers who began a hunger strike in Cairo on Monday to protest against Egypt’s refusal to allow a Gaza solidarity march to proceed.
American activist Hedy Epstein and other grandmothers participating in the Gaza Freedom March began a hunger strike at 1000 GMT.
“I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how my body will react, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” Epstein told AFP, sitting on a chair surrounded by hundreds of protesters outside the United Nations building in Cairo.
Egyptian authorities had said they would not allow any of the 1,300 protesters who have come to Egypt from 42 countries to take part in the march to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing, the only entry that bypasses Israel.
High-ranking officers and riot police were deployed on the Nile bank where the UN building is located and where hundreds of Gaza Freedom March participants asked the United Nations to mediate with Cairo to let their convoy into Gaza.
“We met with the UN resident coordinator in Cairo James Rawley and we are waiting for a response,” Philippine Senator Walden Bello told protesters.
“We will wait as long as it takes,” he said.
Protesters who wore T-shirts with “The Audacity of War Crimes” and “We will not be silent” held a giant Palestinian flag, as others sang, danced and shouted “Freedom for Gaza” in various langagues.
Egypt has beefed up security measures along the 380-kilometre (236-mile) road to the Rafah border crossing, setting up dozens of checkpoints along the way, a security official told AFP.
“Measures have been tigtened along the road from Cairo to Rafah to prevent activists from the Gaza Freedom March from staging the march,” the official said.
Separately, organisers of another aid convoy trying to reach the blockaded enclave — Viva Palestina led by British MP George Galloway — said it would head to Syria on Monday en route for Egypt after being stranded in Jordan’s Red Sea port of Aqaba for five days.
Turkey dispatched an official on Saturday to try to convince the Egyptians to allow Viva Palestina to go through the Red Sea port of Nuweiba — the most direct route — but Egypt insisted the convoy can only enter through El-Arish, on its Mediterranean coast.
The Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina were planning to arrive one year after Israel’s devastating war on Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis also died.
Meanwhile, at least 300 French participants of the Gaza Freedom March spent the night camped out in front of their embassy in Cairo, bringing a major road in the capital to a halt, as riot police wielding plexiglass shields surrounded them.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki accused the French protesters of lying and trying to embarrass Egypt.
“They claimed they had aid to carry to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is a lie,” the MENA news agency quoted Zaki as saying.
“They want media exposure and to pressure and embarrass Egypt,” he said.
On Sunday, police briefly detained 38 international participants in the Sinai town of El-Arish, organisers said.
“At noon (1000 GMT) on December 27, Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 activists in their hotel in El-Arish as they prepared to leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest. The delegates, all part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French, British, American and Japanese,” a statement on the group’s website said.
“Another group of eight people, including American, British, Spanish, Japanese and Greek citizens, were detained at the bus station of El-Arish in the afternoon of December 27,” they said.
On Sunday, Egyptian police also stopped some 200 protesters from renting boats on the Nile to hold a procession to commemorate those who died in the Gaza war.
On December 31, participants are hoping to join Palestinians “in a non-violent march from northern Gaza to the Erez-Israeli border,” the organisers said.