Published at: 07/01/2010
1- In July 2009, the relevant Egyptian authorities (Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Ministry of the Interior / General Intelligence Service) instituted an Egyptian mechanism for receiving humanitarian convoys bound for Gaza, and within the framework of this mechanism the port of El Arish was selected as the sole entry point for humanitarian relief. The mechanism was instituted after thousands of tons of assistance had previously arrived at different ports and caused severe administrative disruptions for different state authorities, especially when one consideres the issue of customs clearance, and the fact that certain humanitarian deliveries had to be returned upon reception when found to be unfit for usage (due to expiration, previous usage..etc). El Arish is also the closest point to Gaza in addition to its proximity to storage locations in El Arish city should the need to store certain supplies arise.
2- The relevant Egyptian authorities (Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Ministry of the Interior / General Intelligence Service) have been following reports of the preparations for the Lifeline 3 Convoy on the website of Viva Palestina which is affiliated with British MP George Galloway. The Egyptian Embassy in London had, on 10 November 2009, conveyed a letter to Mr. Galloway informing him of the Egyptian mechanism for receiving humanitarian convoys to Gaza, which clearly mentioned the need for convoys to enter via El Arish port.
3- Until the convoy departed London on 6 December 2009, neither the Egyptian Embassy in London nor the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs received any information from the organizers of the convoy regarding their plans. Moreover, the Embassy never received any response from the organizers regarding its letter to Mr. Galloway dated 10 November 2009.
4- After the departure of the convoy, the Embassy sent another letter to Mr. Galloway conforming the mechanism specified by the Egyptian Government and underscoring the necessity of the entry of the humanitarian relief supplies through El Arish port. Once again, the Embassy did not receive any response to its letter.
5- As a result of Mr. Galloway's disregard of its two letters, the Embassy in London took the initiative and contacted Mr. Galloway's office, for the third time, on 17 December to reaffirm that the convoy should meticulously abide by the above-mentioned mechanism to receive humanitarian convoys. The Embassy requested from Mr. Galloway's office a list of names of participants in the convoy. Until that date (11 days following the departure of the convoy), Mr. Galloway's office never provided this information. The Embassy received the required information on that day, and three days later received amendments to the list.
6- Upon instructions from Cairo, the Egyptian Embassy in London reaffirmed to Mr. Galloway, for the fourth time, that Egyptian authorities had agreed to grant the convoy access to Gaza, on the proposed date (27 December), on condition that the ruled and regulations governing the entry of humanitarian convoys be strictly adhered to.
7- In spite of Egypt's repeated stipulations, Mr. Galloway persisted in disregarding the relevant regulations, directing the convoy through Jordan which then proceeded south the port of Aqaba, so as to enter Egypt through the port of Nuweiba, in contravention of the aforementioned Egyptian mechanism.
8- Consequently, and due to the organizer's insistence on imposing the status quo, Egypt declared that it will refuse entry of the convoy except from El Arish, which was subsequently conveyed to Mr. Galloway through the Egyptian Consulate in Aqaba.
9- Having discovered that Mr. Galloway had deliberately concealed the existence of such an Egyptian mechanism, the Turkish authorities intervened on behalf of the Turkish participants in the convoy, whose share constituted the majority of the humanitarian aid, to seek with Egyptian authorities the most suitable means of accomplishing the convoy's mission. Egypt reiterated the importance of adhering to the aforementioned mechanism, particularly since it was made known to the organizers a month prior to launching the convoy. As such, the Turkish coordinator took the decision to return to the Syrian port of Lattakia so that the convoy may then proceed to El Arish.
10- As soon as the convoy announced it would head to El Arish, Egypt granted it exceptional facilities. The Egyptian authorities also granted permission for all the humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.
11- However, as soon as the convoy arrived to El Arish on 3 and 4 January, the Egyptian authorities were surprised to find that the convoy included 59 cars (saloon) of no humanitarian use, and carrying no humanitarian supplies. The Egyptian authorities had not been notified that the convoy would include such cars. Moreover, they had informed the participants that all vehicles carrying humanitarian supplies would have priority of entry. The Egyptian authorities therefore had no choice, with respect to the aforementioned 59 cars, but to apply the laws and regulations governing the entry of non-humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip.
12- Some of the convoy's spokespersons claimed that there was a written agreement between the Egyptian Consul in Aqaba and the convoy's organizers, by virtue of which the whole convoy, including all vehicles, had been granted permission to enter through the Rafah crossing. However, such claims are categorically untrue.
13- In the meantime, Mr. Galloway had provoked a number of the convoy's participants, who publicly declared that his intention had been to trigger this crisis in retaliation for the Egyptian authorities' refusal to grant the convoy access from Nuweiba (bearing in mind that the organizers had been informed months earlier that the designated point of entry was the port of El Arish). Mr. Galloway and a number of participants also threatened to set fire to the 59 cars.
14- On the evening of 5 January, a number of participants started attacking members of the Egyptian security forces with stones, as well as vandalizing part of the port's infrastructure, forcing the security forces to intervene. The clashes resulted in a number of casualties on both sides.
15- As soon as order was restored, the convoy was allowed to enter the Gaza Strip on 6 January, with the exception of the 59 cars which had to undergo the standard procedures for non-humanitarian goods.
16- It is important to note that Egypt cooperated with Mr. Galloway in two previous humanitarian aid convoys to Gaza, namely the first Lifeline for Gaza in March 2009, and the second in mid-July 2009.
The Sum of Medical and other humanitarian equipment that Egypt allowed access to Gaza from 29th of December 2008 till 28th December 2009
The aid that entered Gaza Strip through Rafah crossing:
=B7 7911.628 tons of medicine
=B7 15679 blood packs
=B7 224 ambulances
=B7 4 refrigerators for preserving blood packs
=B7 194 vehicles to be used as mobile clinics
=B7 7 electricity generators
=B7 Hundreds of tons of Medical and humanitarian equipments
=B7 Aid Convoys: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Turkey, Algeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Russia, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, Sultanate of Oman, Yemen, Indonesia, South Africa, Morocco, Malaysia, Venezuela, Ireland, Bahrain, France, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Canada, Islamic Organization of Europe, the Arab Parliament.
=B7 Lifeline convoy 1 & 2
=B7 The convoy of "Hope"
=B7 "Miles of Smiles" convoy
The aid that entered Gaza Strip through other crossings (Karam Abou Salem and Awaga):
=B7 6280 tons of food
=B7 One million mineral water bottles
=B7 A well provisioned school comprised of (11 classes, 2 bathrooms and 55000 school bags)
=B7 Hundreds of tons of humanitarian equipments
=B7 Aid Convoys: Egyptian National Party and the Egyptian Red Crescent, Libya, Turkey, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, Switzerland, Japan and FAO.
Note: Egypt has dedicated Arish maritime port and seaport for the receiving of humanitarian and medical aid equipments and materials from around the world.