CAIRO: Calm returned to the Egypt-Gaza border Thursday after clashes between Palestinian protesters and Egyptian border guards left one guard, 22-year-old Ahmed Shaaban dead, and nine injured from both sides.
The protests were preceded by earlier protests in Al-Arish between security forces and members of the Viva Palestina convoy.
The conflict started Tuesday night when the Egyptian Authorities refused to release some 48 vehicles of the 150-strong Lifeline 3 convoy. The decision enraged members who had already been through many obstacles before reaching Al-Arish several days behind schedule.
Convoy members descended on the compound that was holding the vehicles and tore open the gate. Security forces converged on the protestors and clashes eventually broke out. Some 20 protestors were detained for a number of hours as a result.
However, calm was restored and on Wednesday evening the convoy began to enter Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, 10 days after its original schedule. Yet, before the convoy entered, Gazans converged at the border to protest Egypt’s treatment of the convoy and its construction of an underground metal barrier on the border to block the smuggling tunnels.
Protestors threw stones across the border and Palestinian police shot in the air to control the crowd. Egyptian guards also returned fire. An exchange of fire ensued. One Egyptian guard was killed by what authorities described as a sniper rifle.
Sources in the area told Daily News Egypt that the latest events reflected the growing tensions between the Egyptian government and Hamas, which has been ruling solely in Gaza since June 2007.
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mufid Shehab defended the decision to build the new underground wall in an address to the People’s Assembly last Sunday, and denied that foreign parties were funding construction.
He said, “These constructions are made by the Egyptian Armed Forces underneath our territories, implementing a plan aimed at securing Egypt s borders, safety of its region and security of its people.
“Countries have the right to establish on their borders – above and underneath the ground – artificial lines whether watchtowers, columns, walls or any other engineering constructions underneath the ground, to maintain their national security, he added, “No one, under any circumstances, should make this issue open to discussion or debate in mass media.
The Viva Palestina convoy was carrying over a million dollars worth of aid intended for Gaza and had hoped to enter on the one-year anniversary of the Israeli offensive on Gaza in late December.
It was reported Thursday that authorities are considering blacklisting all members of the convoy, including British Respect MP George Galloway, meaning they will not be allowed to enter Egypt again.
Masrawy news portal quoted officials as saying that there would be no more Viva Palestina convoys allowed on Egyptian soil, one official saying, “After this convoy leaves Egypt it will never be allowed to return.
British Respect MP Yvonne Ridley had previously told Daily News Egypt that the Egyptian government’s treatment of the convoy and Gaza Freedom March activists in Cairo who were not allowed to travel to Rafah was a “spectacular own goal.
“By throwing the spotlight off Israel and its siege of Gaza it has shed the spotlight on Egypt’s complicity and now the whole world knows the Egyptian government is enforcing the brutal siege alongside Israel, she said.