Galloway deported from Egypt – All convoy members to be ‘black-listed’
The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) has learned that all international members, including the Irish participants, of the Viva Palestina aid convoy safely left Gaza this afternoon and are in Egypt. Reports are just coming in that all convoy members have been escorted to the airport in Cairo and are facing de facto deportation and black-listing. There were fears for their safety last night after reports emerged from Gaza that Israeli air-strikes had struck up to seven locations in the Gaza Strip.
The attacks killed three Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, and wounded two others. Palestinian medical sources named the dead as Abu Heesh Odai (14), Naser Al-Mahmum (22) and Barakat Abu Shalouf. All three were reportedly killed when missiles hit two tunnels near the Rafah crossing with Egypt. These tunnels provide a life-line for Gazans who have faced an Israeli-imposed blockade for the past three years.
Three sites near Gaza City and two near the southern town of Khan Younis were also hit by missiles, striking empty buildings and open spaces, according to witnesses and Hamas officials. One missile struck near a school, another landed close to a sports club and another hit a building in the An-Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza City.
In the wake of the attacks, the members of the Viva Palestina convoy were told by Egyptian authorities that they must leave Gaza. The convoy members, including all the Irish participants, complied with this request – with the exception of Caoimhe Butterly who has elected to remain in Gaza to continue her humanitarian work.
Speaking from Egypt this morning, Irish convoy member John Hurson said: “I am in good spirits, but the experience of the bombings has really shaken many convoy members. I, along with others, was in a sports club ½ km from one of the bombs last night and we were moved quickly back to our hotel.”
Mr. Hurson stressed that: “Although such bombings are commonplace in Gaza the impact of having bombs dropped ½ km from you is difficult, and one can only imagine how traumatic the lives of the people of Gaza must be. They are the true heroes for what they have to live with on a daily basis”.
In Ireland, Freda Hughes, IPSC spokesperson today said: “We are all relieved that the Viva Palestina members are safe, and we salute the courage and commitment of the volunteers in putting their lives on the line to show solidarity with the people of Palestine and bring much needed aid. The fact that the convoy managed to eventually get into Gaza is indeed cause for celebration, however we can only conclude that these were punishment attacks aimed at quelling the joy felt by many Gazans at the convoy’s arrival.”
Ms. Hughes continued: “However, we must not lose sight of the reason that such convoys are necessary in the first place - the ongoing crippling medieval-style siege on Gaza coupled with frequent Israeli attacks, which have the left the 1.5 million residents in such a state of despair.”
Ms Hughes, commenting Israeli aggression, said: “Last night’s attacks on Gaza leaves the Palestinian death toll for 2010 at 4 people, while at least 8 have been wounded and 23 been abducted by Israeli forces - and we are only eight days into the New Year! This is outrageous behavior by the Israeli state and it needs to be held to account for such appalling actions. Equally worrying are the reports that emerged yesterday of Israeli war-games in the Negev desert, which Israeli media reports say were a dry-run for another large scale assault on Gaza and a possible military re-occupation of the strip”.
Ms. Hughes concluded with a call for Irish civil society to take action against Israel. She said: “We in Ireland must do all we can to help ensure this siege is lifted, to end the illegal occupation of Palestine, and to pressure Israel to adhere to its obligations under International Law and stop its constant crimes against Palestinians. We feel that the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement represents a proactive and non-violent way in which people in Ireland can help achieve this.”
George Galloway MP Deported from Egypt – Plans for another convoy
According to Viva Palestina and Egyptian security sources, the British MP George Galloway was last night deported from Egypt. He and two others had crossed back into Rafah after learning that the Egyptian authorities were planning to re-arrest seven convoy members when they returned to Egypt. Mr. Galloway and his associates were ushered into a police van and forced onto a plane to London, and he has reportedly be been declared a persona non grata in Egypt. According to Viva Palestina, Mr. Galloway and Turkish MP's struck a deal with Egyptian authorities that the 7 detainees would be released without charge.
However, according to Palestinian news site Ma’an, Egyptian authorities have decided to put all the convoy members on a black-list after they leave and they will not be allowed entry into Egypt or Gaza again. According to a text message from one of the Derry to Gaza team, after crossing into Egypt they were, "escorted by bus straight to Airport. NO hanging around Egypt. We will sleep at airport tonight".
Meanwhile, back in London, Mr. Galloway announced plans for another aid convoy, which he said will include Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.