Some 157 members of the UK-based Viva Palestina convoy, which departed from Britain last month, arrived in Egypt’s El Arish International Airport on a plane from the Syrian city of Latakia on Monday afternoon. But upon their arrival, their passports were taken away by the Egyptian authorities, according to Alice Howard, a spokeswoman for the convoy.
British MP George Galloway and convoy leader Kevin Onenden’s passports were also seized, according to Howard.
The passports were later returned to their owners, but they received an exit stamp in addition to an entry stamp. Following a sit-in protest by convoy participants, Egyptian authorities agreed to remove the exit stamp from the passports, allowing them to remain in Egypt. The convoy members left the airport following the resolution of the dispute over the passports.
The group that arrived on Monday was just one-third of the Viva Palestina convoy, which had to be divided into three when flying out of Latakia. The rest of the convoy arrived in El Arish on Tuesday, but their flights were not as easy as that of the first group: The second group had to spend the night at Syria’s Damascus Airport after the plane taking them from Latakia to El Arish suffered a technical malfunction on Tuesday afternoon. The third group could not leave Latakia as scheduled.
Both the second and third groups were flown to El Arish on Tuesday after another plane was found.
The Viva Palestina convoy, which includes volunteers from Turkey, was first stopped in Jordan’s Red Sea port city of Aqaba after Egyptian authorities refused to allow it to enter Gaza through the Red Sea port of Nuweiba last week. Egypt insisted that the convoy return to Syria and then enter Egypt through the port of El Arish on the Mediterranean coast.
The convoy had originally hoped to reach Gaza last week, coinciding with the anniversary of a deadly Israeli offensive that killed about 1,400 Palestinians. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said earlier that the convoy should be allowed to reach Gaza.