CAIRO: Egyptian authorities have reportedly banned the media from entering the village of Rafah, citing “safety concerns.
The village lies approximately two kilometers away from the Rafah crossing which the media has been granted access to in order to film aid donations and injured Palestinians being ferried into and out of Gaza.
On Tuesday Gamal Mubarak, son of President Hosni Mubarak and chairman of the National Democratic Party’s policies committee, made a high profile visit to hospitals where Palestinians injured by the Israeli attacks on Gaza are being treated.
Some journalists who are currently in Al-Arish claim that they were actively encouraged to photograph certain things such as a van bearing the inscription “this is a gift from the National Democratic Party.
According to one broadcaster – who spoke on condition of anonymity – Egyptian police and members of state security investigations detained a group of approximately 22 journalists of various nationalities on Monday.
“Approximately a week ago, various broadcasters set up a rooftop position with their satellite SNG equipment on a house near the border, and were using it to do live broadcasts, the broadcaster explained.
“On Monday a group of policemen and state security officers arrived at the house and informed journalists that, ‘the position has changed and you no longer have permission to broadcast from Rafah.
“They then detained us for about an hour in a police station and told us that any journalist found in Rafah would be taken to court: not just a brief detention, but a trial in Cairo.
The broadcaster is, however, skeptical of the authorities’ claims that the decision to close Rafah to the media was taken for safety reasons.
“While it is very true that there are security risks from pieces of shrapnel which land on the Egyptian side of the border, this is the case anywhere along the border and not just in the village, the broadcaster explained.
“It seems that we might have caused problems by interviewing local people about what is happening, the broadcaster continued.
Several sources suggest that the decision might have been taken following the appearance of Al-Jazeera correspondent Amr El-Kahky dispatching reports from Rafah in a flak jacket and helmet.
“The Egyptian authorities may have been angered by the suggestion El-Kahky s clothing gave that the war had reached Egypt, one journalist said..
Another journalist, who also requested anonymity, suggested that authorities sensitivity about the Rafah village might be attributable to the fact that it was the site of the border breach in January 2008 by Gazans who had been placed under a blockade by Israel since 2007.
The 10-day breach was a political embarrassment for the Egyptian authorities who were placed under heavy pressure by members of the international community to re-seal the border.
“A group of us sneaked into Rafah village in a van a week ago and it was eerie: there were literally platoons of soldiers and police officers on every street corner, the journalist said.
“We actually had permission to film on the main street away from the border, but as soon as we got out of the van police and state security investigations officers came at us from all directions and threatened to arrest us.
“They just don t want anything to come out of Rafah. There seems to be paranoia about it.
“While their concern about people getting hurt may be genuine – and it is a very real concern: I saw two pieces of huge shrapnel yesterday within the Egyptian side of the border – they don t seem bothered about our safety anywhere else apart from in Rafah village.
However, another member of the media, who also requested anonymity, was critical of journalists themselves.
“Journalists were not meant to be in Rafah in the first place. It s a military area which extends for 5 km, and the way we were allowed in and given access was unprecedented, she said.
“State security investigations knew about the presence of the SNG equipment on two houses in Rafah and turned a blind eye for 16 days. It s only when everyone wanted the glory of getting an exclusive story about the tunnels and the smugglers and started wandering around near the border with their cameras that that changed.
“The media have been given complete access to the Rafah crossing and have been told from the start ‘you re free to go to the crossing but don t wander around the town.’ I don t think anyone can blame Egyptian security authorities for what they did.