Convoy given 24 hours to deliver aid and leave Gaza
Following a challenging journey, an international convoy carrying aid to Gaza reached the region yesterday and received a warm welcome from locals.
The trucks were expected to go in, unload their cargo and leave as quickly as possible. Egypt, which has been blocking the entry of the international aid convoy into the Gaza Strip, allowed the vehicles to enter the city on Wednesday, easing back from the strict blockade after Turkish officials' intervention.
Before the convoy’s entry through the Rafah crossing there were clashes in the area, as a riot broke out along the border in protest of Egypt’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is located between Egypt and Israel. One Egyptian border guard died and at least 40 were injured in the clashes. This comes a day after several hundred international activists clashed with police in the Egyptian port city of Al Arish when they were told that a portion of their aid convoy would be allowed to enter Gaza only through Israel.
Five Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies and more than 200 Turkish citizens are part of the aid convoy, which departed from England 131 days earlier. Following yesterday’s clashes, Turkish officials stepped in, after which Egyptian officials allowed the convoy to pass through.
Humanitarian Aid Association (İHH) spokesperson Salih Bilici said the tensions rose when some plain-clothed officers among the Egyptian riot police teams deployed in front of the Al Arish port started throwing stones at the convoy. He said the Egyptian police attacked convoy participants with batons and used tear gas, causing 40 people including several Turkish journalists to be injured. Seven were detained during the events, according to Bilici.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (L) greets Viva Palestina convoy member Bülent Yıldırım, who heads the Turkish aid organization İHH, after the arrival of the international convoy in Gaza.
According to reports from the region, Egyptian officials wanted to confiscate 57 vehicles, which they said were bought in Egypt but had Turkish license plates. AK Party deputy Murat Mercan called Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who according to reports called his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Ebulgeyt. After a lengthy conversation between the two, Egyptian officials allowed entry to a large portion of the convoy.
Turkish Embassy officials in Egypt contacted various people in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry yesterday. Egypt’s ambassador to Ankara also attended meetings at the Foreign Ministry in Ankara. Diplomatic talks finally produced results and by late Wednesday portions of the humanitarian convoy had begun entering Gaza.
George Galloway, a British lawmaker and leader of the convoy said the Egyptians’ attempts to send some trucks of the convoy to Israel was “unconscionable” He also praised Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his efforts to help Palestine. Galloway was quoted in the Turkish media yesterday as having said “I wish Egypt, all Arab countries and even England get a prime minister like Erdoğan,” in remarks translated into Turkish as such. As the convoy started entering Gaza, there was “joy and emotional moments” in Gaza streets, according to an Al Jazeera reporter at the scene.
AK Party deputies meet Haniyeh
Meanwhile, Turkish deputies in the convoy met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. AK Party deputies Mehmet Hıdır Nil, Seracettin Karayağız, Cemal Yılmazdemir, Hüsnü Tuna and Murat Mercan, who also heads Parliament’s Foreign Relations Commission and Contentment Party (SP) Secretary-General Temel Karamollaoğlu also crossed the Egyptian border yesterday.
In his speech during his meeting with the Turkish deputies, Haniyeh said he was very happy to see the visitors in Gaza. “We still haven’t forgotten Prime Minister Erdoğan’s courageous act in the face of Israel’s attacks and blockade,” he said, referring to Erdoğan’s walking off the stage during a panel discussion in Davos last year in protest of Israeli attacks on Gaza last January after an angry exchange with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Haniyeh said he attached great importance to Turkey’s stance regarding the rights of Palestinians, noting, “With the new policy Turkey has been pursuing, the Middle East is also being reshaped.”
He said they had followed the journey of the convoy from the start, seeing the difficulties they had to face. He said those who finally made it to Gaza on Wednesday night were “true heroes.”
During his meeting with the deputies, he also thanked President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Erdoğan and the Turkish nation for their support. Haniyeh also noted that the region where new homes will be built with cement from the Turkish Red Crescent will be named after Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Ottoman emperor who conquered İstanbul in 1453.
Prime Minister Erdoğan also commented on Wednesday’s developments yesterday. He said, “Our stance on Gaza is not the reflection of a change of axis in our foreign policy, but the reflection of our sincerity and humanity.”