Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gaza Freedom March Update: French Activist Reported Killed; Protests on Both Sides of Border to Break the Siege

French Gaza Freedom March activist killed in Cairo

Thu, 31 Dec 2009 14:10:15 GMT

Gaza Freedom March activists chanted slogans in front of Egyptian riot police during a protest at the center of Cairo, Egypt on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2009

Organizers of the "Gaza Freedom March" report the death of a French citizen from injuries sustained at the hands of security forces during a demonstration in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Marie Renee died in the Cairo Hospital. She was traveling with a French delegation of approximately 300 nationals, Ma'an news agency reported.

Press TV presenter Yvan Ridley however didn't confirm the report.

The French delegates had earlier been camped out on the grounds surrounding the French Embassy in Cairo, reportedly flanked by two lines of Egyptian police.

Hundreds of activists with the "Gaza Freedom March" have continued demonstrations and sit-ins in Cairo to protest the Egyptian government's refusal to allow them to cross the border into the besieged Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday, Egyptian security allowed 84 of the 1,300 who registered to participate in the Gaza Freedom March into the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave All were traveling with the Codepink delegation, which organized two earlier trips into the blockaded Palestinian coastal sliver since the Israeli war on Gaza last year.

Another 1,200 activists from about 40 states remained in Cairo after Egypt refused entry for the group because of what they called the "sensitive situation" in the Palestinian territory.

The "Gaza Freedom March" activists were hoping to march into Gaza on the anniversary of Israel's 22-day offensive on the territory as a sign of solidarity with its people, carrying with them aid and supplies.

Israel has continued to close all border crossings to the Gaza Strip for more than two years. The illegal Israeli imposed blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has steadily tightened since 2007, has had a disastrous impact on the humanitarian and economic situation in the coastal enclave.

Some 1.5 million people are being denied their basic rights, including freedom of movement, and their rights to appropriate living conditions, work, health and education. Poverty and unemployment rates stand at approximately 80% and 60% respectively in the Gaza Strip.

Egypt with the Palestinian Authority's blessings has sealed its borders with the Gaza Strip, effectively cutting off the coastal enclave from the rest of the world.

Thursday, December 31, 2009
16:29 Mecca time, 13:29 GMT

Protests held against Gaza siege

Members of Gaza Freedom March, denied entry to Gaza, demonstrated in Cairo

Activists, both from Gaza and abroad, have held demonstrations on either side of an Israeli border crossing to the Palestinian territory, protesting against its continued siege by Israel.

Hundreds of protesters gathered around the Erez crossing on Thursday, to denounce the blockade that has caused immense suffering to those living in Gaza.

Nisreen el-Shamayleh, Al Jazeera's correspondent who was on the Israeli side of the crossing, estimated that about 600 protesters were present, many from mainly Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.

"They represent Israeli-Palestinians as well as other Arab civil society organisations inside Israel and also with the support of some Israeli groups," she said.

"Their major demand is for Israel to stop the siege on Gaza and to stop the suffocation of Gazans living under this blockade. They're also calling on the international community to intervene."

The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade since 2007 when Hamas seized power in the territory.

The Erez crossing is the main entry and exit point to and from Gaza used by medical patients, journalists, diplomats and aid groups.

International support

On the Gaza side of the border, the demonstration was slower to get started, but protesters there were joined by 86 activists from the Gaza Freedom March, an international group that has been trying to get into Gaza with food and supplies.

Most of the Gaza Freedom March's 1,300-strong group were refused entry into Gaza by Egypt, which controls the Rafah crossing point, because of what Egyptian authorities said was the "sensitive situation" in the territory.

Many of those remaining in Egypt held separate demonstrations in Cairo.

Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, who was at the Cairo protest, told Al Jazeera the group had been surrounded by the police.

"I've spoken to some people who were pushed or kicked by police and a few people have [had] their cameras taken away," he said.

"I'd say there are about 200 people here. We had anticipated quite a few more, but earlier today police barricaded some of the hotels where we are staying ... I can't tell you how many people have been prevented from joining us."

A separate aid convoy has also been trying to reach Gaza through Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba.

Lorries from the Viva Palestina convoy began crossing from Jordan into Syria on Thursday.

The events around Gaza coincide with the one-year anniversary of Israel's devastating 22-day war on Gaza which left about 1,300 Palestinians dead. Thirteen Israelis also died in the conflict.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Palestine Solidarity Activists Enter Gaza, March Through Beit Hanoun

By Alex Kane
December 31, 2009

Occupied Palestinian Territory, Gaza City, Gaza Strip–About 85 international delegates marched with hundreds of Palestinians in the area of Beit Hanoun in Gaza yesterday afternoon. The protesters called on Israel, Egypt and the United States to lift the devastating siege on Gaza and to let the over 1,300 delegates from the Gaza Freedom March still in Cairo to be allowed in.

The delegates, who came from numerous countries, including the United States, France, Turkey, Canada, Germany and Australia, had crossed the Rafah border late last night. Along with the over 80 activists who crossed, humanitarian aid worth tens of thousands of dollars were brought in for the people of Gaza.

The crossing came after a tense day full of bitter debates and fights amongst the Gaza Freedom March delegates (for more, see Ellen Davidson’s piece here).

The Egyptian government had blocked any international activists from crossing for days, and they continue to repress activists still in Egypt. There have been reports of beatings, detainments and injuries of Palestine solidarity activists still in Cairo and el-Arish at the hands of Egyptian security forces. Egypt receives billions of dollars in economic and military aid from the United States, and also seals the border it shares with Gaza, though it occasionally opens it.

“Our happiness is not complete,” because the majority of the delegates are stuck in Egypt, said Ahmed Alnajjar, the director of international relations for the Ministry of Education in Gaza.

The march was much smaller than expected because of security concerns, according to Tighe Barry, an organizer with CODEPINK. Some Gazan non-governmental organizations pulled out of participating in the march after Hamas, the Islamist party that won democratic elections in Palestine in 2006, took a much bigger role than originally promised.

On the bus towards Gaza late Dec. 30, Barry stressed the importance of the smaller delegation breaking the siege, albeit in a small way, on the people of Gaza.

“We are cracking open the door, and we need to do this every day,” said Barry. “We set Gaza free in some ways.”

After two hours of marching, the international delegation led the way towards the Erez border crossing with Israel, which has been shut since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007. The activists and Gazans chanted “Free, Free Gaza, Free Free Palestine,” and “Lift the Siege.”

“We are living in jail. We are living in a cage. There is nowhere to go, what to do?” said Mustafa Elhawi, 51, a Gaza City resident who is on the board of directors for the Gazan Community Bridge Initiative. “We welcome people, delegations, like you coming here, and you just give us hope.”

The march advanced a little less than 500 meters away from Erez, but couldn’t go farther for fear of provoking the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israeli military killed three Gazans December 27 when they were seen crawling along the border between Israel and Gaza.

There was a separate march with about 300 people on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing.

Protesters demand access to Gaza

ILHAM RAWOOT | CAIRO, EGYPT - Dec 31 2009 10:36

Over 1 000 protesters and journalists from 43 countries converged on the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on Thursday morning, calling for Egypt to open the Rafah border with Gaza.

After a violent start to the protest, about 600 protesters sat down outside the museum, where they intend to stay until midnight.

The museum has been closed as well as a central metro station.

The police were earlier seen dragging women by their hair and beating and kicking seated protesters.

The protesters had gathered in Cairo to mark the first anniversary of Israel's devastating war on Gaza that killed 1 400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis also died.

Egypt then banned the activists from entering the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing, the only entry that bypasses Israel. The move has sparked a number of demonstrations. About three hundred French nationals have set up camp outside the French embassy and are demanding their government put pressure on Egypt to open the border. Also on Wednesday, a group of French and American delegates hung a larger-than-life Palestinian flag over one of the pyramids, the second demonstration of its kind in four days. There have also been protests at the Cairo Journalists’ Syndicate, the United States Embassy, and the United Nations headquarters at Cairo’s World Trade Centre.

Relations between the protesters and the government became strained on Tuesday evening, when Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and chairperson of the Red Crescent organisation, offered to allow 100 protesters into Gaza. The offer was accepted by one of the march organisers, Code Pink, a US anti-war group that is mainly composed of women. This sowed division among the protesters, with many countries, including South Africa, making a conscious decision not to go, as they felt it “diluted the message” and was a “sell-out strategy”.

Code Pink have since decided not to accept Egypt's offer.

Ziyaad Lunat, a member of the march coordinating committee, said they rejected Egypt's offer as a "token gesture".

"We refuse to whitewash the siege of Gaza. Our group will continue working to get all 1 362 marchers into Gaza as one step towards the ultimate goal for the complete end of the siege and the liberation of Palestine” said Lunat.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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UN's Falk calls for sanctions against Israel

Thu, 31 Dec 2009 02:21:50 GMT
Press TV

Richard Falk is the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Gaza Strip

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Gaza Strip has called for military and economic sanctions against Israel.

"The UN has not been willing [yet] to give what's needed to exert significant pressure on Israel to lift the blockade that under any circumstances is unlawful," Richard Falk told Press TV on Thursday.

"The only thing that could be more effective would be a move toward economic sanctions that would include military assistance" to Israel, the UN diplomat underlined.

The UN independent expert on Palestinian rights has also criticized the international community for its failure to end the Israeli blockade against the Gaza Strip

He called for "some more effective international approach" to lift the three year blockade that "shocks the conscience of humanity".

He added that the plight of the Palestinians under the Israeli siege should prompt the international community to give the besieged population "some kind of protection."

Gaza has been under a tight Israeli blockade since June 2007, when Hamas took control of the populated area.

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