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Lethal Clashes at Gaza-Egypt Border

At least one Egyptian border guard has been killed and two Palestinians shot and wounded along the Gaza border during fierce clashes with Egyptian security forces.

A Hamas policeman uses a baton to stop Palestinian demonstrators from throwing stones at Egyptian troops across the border in Rafah. Cross-border gunfire killed an Egyptian policeman and wounded five Palestinians after youths hurled rocks over the border fence during a protest in southern Gaza. (AFP/Mohammed Abed) A border protest on Wednesday turned violent over frustration that the aid convoy, Viva Palestina, had been delayed.

Egyptian forces opened fire to disperse stone-throwing protesters who had gathered on the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing, witnesses and medics said.

Gaza's Hamas leaders had called for the rally to protest the delay of the Viva Palestina international aid convoy at Egypt's port city of al-Arish.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza, said the situation had calmed considerably shortly thereafter.

"Senior officials from Palestinian security forces have arrived at the border [and] they have calmed the situation down. They were able to push back the thousand or so protesters and rock-throwers who had gathered here.

"About an hour ago, a rally that had been organised by Hamas to criticise Egypt's denial to allow the Viva Palestina convoy to make its way into Gaza with much needed aid was held here.

"Shortly after that concluded, Palestinians started throwing rocks at Egyptian security personnel on the other side of the border and we heard an exchange of gunfire. We have been able to confirm that two Palestinians have been injured as a result of that gunfire."

Aid convoy delayed

Wednesday's fighting followed a clash late on Tuesday between Egyptian authorities and international members of the Viva Palestina convoy, which is destined for the Gaza Strip.

At least 55 people were injured in those clashes when 520 activists broke down a gate at the port in al-Arish to protest against an Egyptian decision to ship some of the goods through Israel.

The protests were sparked by an Egyptian decision to allow 139 vehicles to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, about 45km from the port in al-Arish, but requiring a remaining 59 vehicles to pass via Israel.

The convoy, led by George Galloway, a British MP, had already been delayed by more than a week, after he and a delegation of Turkish MPs failed to persuade the Egyptians to change their mind.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, criticised Egyptian authorities on Wednesday for "reinforcing the seige on Gaza".

"Around 40 Arab, Islamic and European states have mobilized financial and media support to lift the siege imposed on Gaza Strip," he told Al Jazeera.

"Why does not Egypt go along this path of solidarity with Gaza Strip? Such practices are outrageous, inhumane and unethical.

"Our expectations from Egypt and its security authorities are high, but it seems that these expectations are being smashed by batons, hot water and the brutal beating of hundreds of supporters in al-Arish port ...".

Disputed route

The convoy of nearly 200 vehicles arrived in al-Arish on Monday after a dispute with Cairo on the route.

But the arrival came after a bitter dispute between its organisers and the government, which banned the convoy from entering Egypt's Sinai from Jordan by ferry, forcing it to drive north to the Syrian port of Lattakia.

The convoy with 210 lorries full of medicine and other supplies set out from the UK nearly a month ago.

Israel and Egypt have severely restricted travel to and from the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized power there in June 2007, after winning Palestinian legislative elections in 2006.

The blockade currrently allows only very basic supplies into Gaza.

The siege has severely restricted essential supplies and placed Gazans in a dire situation, made worse by Israel's military assault last winter that reduced much of the territory to ruins.

 Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
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