CAIRO: The Viva Palestina aid convoy, Lifeline 5, arrived in Gaza through the Rafah border, the only gateway to Gaza that bypasses the Israeli siege, on Thursday to a “warm reception.”
“Everyone has been walking around hugging each other. We’re at a loss for words,” Asif Bhayat, a volunteer pilot in the aid convoy who also provides extensive coverage of the convoy’s progress on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, told Daily News Egypt.
The convoy was received by a number of NGOs and charity organizations in Gaza.
According to Asif, the convoy crossed through the Rafah border without any difficulties or delays.
“We got through the Rafah border very easily and smoothly for the first time, thanks to the Egyptian authorities,” he said.
The convoy was delayed in Syria for 16 days before reaching Al-Arish Port on Wednesday evening. During the time, the convoy organizers were negotiating with Egypt “over entry requirements [enforced] by the Egyptian authorities”, according to the Viva Palestina website.
“They [Egyptian authorities] gave us a strict list on what was allowed into Gaza in terms of vehicles and aid [that had to] be strictly labeled and packaged in a certain way,” Bayat said.
“They [Egyptian authorities] were also very strict with the paperwork,” he added.
“[But] once we arrived to the airport in Al-Arish, we were received very well by airport officials and everything went smoothly from there,” he added.
Eighteen international activists in the convoy including former British MP George Galloway were prevented from joining the convoy after Egypt said they pose a national security risk, according to members of the convoy.
The 18 activists “decided to go back to their countries because they didn’t want to delay the convoy further or pose any risk on the other activists,” Bhayat said.
Galloway, leader of the convoy, said on Viva Palestina’s website, “I have no wish to have a fight with the Egyptian government; my fight is with Israel.”
“This was a random decision that is unjustifiable. They said they are a threat to national security. How can an 85-year-old Jordanian be a threat to national security, or a British female working for the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign be [threatening],” Zaher Beirawi, the convoy’s spokesman previously told Daily News Egypt.
A total of 330 members of the convoy arrived by plane, while 40 survivors of the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla were allowed to travel from Latakia, Syria for Gaza by ship.
The forty survivors were scheduled to pass by the location — where the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara took place in May leaving 9 Turkish activists dead — and hold a small ceremony to honor those who died.
The Lifeline 5 launched their journey from London on Sept. 18, carrying $5 million worth of aid, mostly medical.
The convoy includes activists from 30 countries, from New Zealand and Australia to Canada and the United States, according to Viva Palestina website.
Activists from Arab countries including Jordan, Algeria, Morocco and Qatar also participated in the convoy.
Israel has imposed a severe blockade on Gaza’s 1.5 million people, ever since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 following its huge victory in the 2006 elections in Gaza.
Israel claims that the siege is a legitimate tool to prevent Hamas from firing rockets on Israel.
More than 80 percent of Gaza’s population is now impoverished; 43 percent unemployed; and 75 percent lack food security, a UN report states.
The Viva Palestina charity organization has led several convoys into the Gaza strip through the Rafah border — during which it clashed with Egyptian authorities — in a bid to break the Israeli siege on Gaza and deliver aid to the impoverished people of Gaza.
"I am currently leading a huge international effort to break the siege on the Gaza Strip, imposed by Israel and its allies to punish the people for how they voted in a free, democratic election,” Galloway said.