Egypt blocks protest caravan trying to enter Gaza


Egypt is preventing some 1,300 protesters from around the world from entering the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing, according to JTA

Here’s the JTA news brief:

The protesters, from more than 40 countries, are part of the Gaza Freedom March, which was organized to protest Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

Some protesters, including a group of grandmothers, began a hunger strike Monday morning to protest Egypt’s refusal to allow them to enter Gaza, AFP reported.

Rafah is the only crossing into Gaza that does not require going through Israeli territory.

Hundreds of the protesters gathered at a United Nations building asking the international agency to intercede with the Egyptian government to allow them to travel to Gaza. French protesters also caused a disturbance by camping out in front of the French embassy in Cairo and blocking the road, a major thoroughfare in the city, according to AFP.

The protesters are scheduled to join Palestinians in Gaza and march from northern Gaza to the Erez Crossing on the Israeli border on Dec. 31.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Cairo on Tuesday to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Meanwhile, Egyptian security told Reuters it would open the Rafah crossing for three days beginning on Jan. 3, to allow Palestinian students, those seeking medical attention and Egyptian residents to pass through.

The Web site of the Gaza Freedom March reports that Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor and peace activist, is a participant in the hunger strike that began Monday in Cairo.

According to the report on the Web, Epstein was 14, in 1939, when she left Germany on a Kindertransport to England. Epstein’s parents were murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. After World War II, Epstein worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates.

“It is important to let the besieged Gazan people know they are not alone,” said Epstein. “I want to tell the people I meet in Gaza that I am a representative of many people in my city and in other places in the U.S. who are outraged at what the U.S., Israeli and European governments are doing to the Palestinians and that our numbers are growing.”

Several Minnesotans reportedly are participating in the Gaza Freedom March, including David Tilsen and Sylvia Schwartz, of Minneapolis; and Mark Tilsen, a Mendota Heights native now living in Rapid City, So. Dakota.

In a message sent through Facebook, David Tilsen said that a group of about 30 Americans attempted to speak with U.S. embassy officials in Cairo, but were blocked by Egyptian riot police, who corralled the group in the street outside of the embassy for five hours.

Gael Murphy, who’s taking part in the march, said she was told by Egyptian officers that the American Embassy called for the officers’ help to protect its premises, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Eventually, the protesters spoke with an embassy official who told them that the decision to bar them from Gaza was a matter for the Egyptian government, according to Tilsen.

In addition to Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip, Egypt has been imposing a blockade on Gaza since Hamas ousted the rival Fatah movement in 2007, and took complete control of the heavily populated strip of land.

Locally, supporters of the Gaza Freedom March will gather at the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30, and march through the skyways in downtown Minneapolis.