Awaiting Gaza March, Holocaust Survivor Stages Hunger Strike

Published on
by
Agence France-Presse

Awaiting Gaza March, Holocaust Survivor Stages Hunger Strike

by
Jailan Zayan

Egyptian and foreign activists hold a vigil in Cairo on December 27 to mark the first anniversary of Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip. An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was among a group of grandmothers who began a hunger strike in Cairo to protest against Egypt's refusal to allow a Gaza solidarity march to proceed. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

CAIRO — An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was among a group of
grandmothers who began a hunger strike in Cairo on Monday to protest
against Egypt's refusal to allow a Gaza solidarity march to proceed.

American activist Hedy Epstein and other grandmothers participating in the Gaza Freedom March began a hunger strike at 1000 GMT.

"I've
never done this before, I don't know how my body will react, but I'll
do whatever it takes," Epstein told AFP, sitting on a chair surrounded
by hundreds of protesters outside the United Nations building in Cairo.

Egyptian
authorities had said it would not allow any of the 1,300 protesters who
have come to Egypt from 42 countries to take part in the march to enter
the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing, the only entry that
bypasses Israel.

High-ranking officers and riot police were
deployed on the Nile bank where the UN building is located and where
hundreds of Gaza Freedom March participants asked the United Nations to
mediate with the Egyptian government to let their convoy into Gaza.

"We
met with the UN resident coordinator in Cairo James Rawley and we are
waiting for a response," Philippine Senator Walden Bello told
protesters.

"We will wait as long as it takes," he said.

Protesters
who wore T-shirts with "The Audacity of War Crimes" and "We will not be
silent" held a giant Palestinian flag, as others sang, danced and
shouted "Freedom for Gaza" in various languages.

Separately,
organisers of another aid convoy trying to reach the blockaded Gaza
Strip -- Viva Palestina led by British MP George Galloway -- said it
will head to Syria on Monday en route for Egypt after being stranded in
Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba for five days.

Turkey dispatched
an official on Saturday to try to convince the Egyptians to allow Viva
Palestina to go through the Red Sea port of Nuweiba -- the most direct
route but Egypt insisted that the convoy can only enter through
El-Arish, on its Mediterranean coast.

The Gaza Freedom March and
Viva Palestina were planning to arrive one year after Israel's
devastating war on Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen
Israelis also died.

Meanwhile, at least 300 French participants
of the Gaza Freedom March spent the night camped out in front of their
embassy in Cairo, bringing a major road in the capital to a halt, as
riot police wielding plexiglass shields surrounded them.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki accused the French protesters of lying and trying to embarrass Egypt.

"They
claimed they had aid to carry to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,
which is a lie," the MENA news agency quoted Zaki as saying.

"They want media exposure and to pressure and embarrass Egypt," he said.

On Sunday, police briefly detained 38 international participants in the Sinai town of El-Arish, organisers said.

"At
noon (1000 GMT) on December 27, Egyptian security forces detained a
group of 30 activists in their hotel in El-Arish as they prepared to
leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest. The delegates, all
part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French,
British, American and Japanese," a statement on the group's website
said.

"Another group of eight people, including American,
British, Spanish, Japanese and Greek citizens, were detained at the bus
station of El-Arish in the afternoon of December 27," they said.

On
Sunday, Egyptian police also stopped some 200 protesters from renting
boats on the Nile to hold a procession to commemorate those who died in
the Gaza war.

On December 31, participants are hoping to join
Palestinians "in a non-violent march from northern Gaza to the
Erez-Israeli border," the organisers said.

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