Aid convoy attacked in Egypt

Brian Lenzo, Ralph Bean and Tom Middleton report on a crackdown on the Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza by Egyptian authorities.

Egyptian riot police attack members of the Viva Palestina convoy (Viva Palestina)Egyptian riot police attack members of the Viva Palestina convoy (Viva Palestina)

EGYPTIAN AUTHORITIES have attacked a convoy carrying humanitarian relief supplies destined for the people of Gaza.

Information was difficult to obtain, but members of the Viva Palestina convoy managed to report that they were facing a force of more than 2,000 riot police in the Egyptian port city of El Arish, and that numerous participants were detained and suffered injuries in the clashes.

At midday on Tuesday, Viva Palestina convoy leader Kevin Ovenden issued an alert saying that the group's "situation is now at a crisis point." Ovenden wrote that Viva participants had been negotiating with a senior official from Cairo about taking the convoy's aid and vehicles into Gaza through the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah.

Ovenden reported that the official they were negotiating with left, and the convoy was confronted with more than 2,000 riot police. "[We] are determined to defend our vehicles and aid," read Ovenden's alert. "The Egyptian authorities have, by their stubbornness and hostility towards the convoy, brought us to a crisis point."

What you can do

For updates on the situation in Egypt as it develops, visit the Viva Palestina Web site.

Viva Palestina is asking activists to mobilize protests where possible at Egyptian embassies and consulates, and to contact Egyptian officials to demand that the violence against the convoy end and Viva Palestina be allowed safe and speedy passage. To reach the Egyptian embassy in Washington, D.C., e-mail [email protected], call 202-895-5400 and fax 202-244-4319.

After the alert appeared on the Viva Palestina Web site, reports started emerging via Twitter and Facebook of police violence, rock throwing and injuries to convoy members.

The cause of the confrontation is still unclear. Numerous initial reports from convoy members posting on Twitter said that men in civilian clothes carried out the attack. One convoy participant wrote, "ppl were attacked by outsiders who came with stick and stones and entered compound, this was a set up." Another reported, "Instigators started moving in from within the police lines and moved on the inside of the police side of the barricades. Convoy members were sitting on the ground when shouts from police lines started and then wham, hell. Just helped bandage a friend's head."

Various reports put the injured at between 10 and 55, with five convoy members arrested. There were no reports of severe injuries, but convoy members say they are reluctant to get treatment without guarantees of safe passage.

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EGYPTIAN OFFICIALS have thrown numerous roadblocks in the way of Viva Palestina.

The convoy set off from London on December 6, with hundreds of participants and vehicles. After driving through Europe, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, convoy participant were told they wouldn't be able to cross into Egypt according to their planned route to get to the Rafah crossing into Gaza. Instead, the government told Viva it could enter the country from the port of El Arish on the Mediterranean Sea. This necessitated a drive back through Syria to the port of Latakia, and chartering a car ferry to reach El Arish, but Viva members managed to make the journey.

Their were more conflicts with Egyptian officials in El Arish, but as of Monday, it appeared that the government would allow Viva members to go as a group to Rafah and cross into Gaza. The next day, negotiations were apparently broken off, and the swarms of riot police arrived.

Accounts of the melee sent over Twitter painted a disturbing picture. One participant reported:

I was coming back from dinner with 8 brothers and sisters. approximately 30 riot police approached us & started harassing pushing and hitting us. the situation escalated. we tried to lock arms and hold each other and get to the gate. there were too many of them.

two meters from the gate they separated us and beat the shit out of us. i got dragged under and into a group of the riot police and was being beaten. managed to get to the wall.

as i was being beaten one of the brothers grabbed me from across the wall and put me into the compound. of the nine of us, four are missing. i dont know what has happened to them. there are other stories like this.

So far, media coverage has been sparse, but Viva Palestina convoy participants are asking for protests where possible at Egyptian consulates and other government institutions to call for a halt to the violence and safe passage for convoy members and aid into Gaza.