Egypt police scuffle with pro-Gaza activists

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AL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — International pro-Gaza activists and Egyptian security clashed at this Mediterranean port when Egypt refused to allow an aid convoy pass through its land to the Hamas-ruled seaside territory, witnesses said Wednesday.

The intermittent clashes lasted for a couple of hours and left than 50 activists and over a dozen members of the security forces injured. Activists briefly seized some policemen as well.

The clashes add to the embarrassment of Egypt, which has come under fire from Arab and Muslim groups for cooperating with Israel in its 28-month blockade of the impoverished territory.

More than 500 international activists accompanied the convoy organized by the British-based group Viva Palestina, bringing tons of humanitarian supplies, as well as vehicles, to Gaza. The group includes British, American, Jordanian and Turkish activists and lawmakers.

The scuffle broke out late Tuesday at al-Arish port building when authorities told the organizers that out of the nearly 200 vehicles, some 59 can’t enter Gaza through Egypt, but must go through Israeli terminals.

A security official said the vehicles in question are carrying pickup trucks, sedans, generators and other equipment, which are not allowed to pass through the Egyptian crossing at Rafah. Only medical aid and passengers are allowed through, the official said.

Activists said the new conditions violate an earlier agreement with the Egyptian authorities, which agreed to allow the whole convoy into Gaza.

Egyptian authorities had already refused the convoy entry into the country from the Red Sea, forcing it to change course to the Mediterranean port.

“We are activists. We condemn the Israeli siege to start with. We will only enter through an Egyptian-Palestinian crossing,” said Wael al-Sakka, a Jordanian activist.

Alice Howard, a spokeswoman for the group, said organizers were negotiating with an Egyptian security official, who said he would come back with answers. But instead, 2,000 riot police returned, spraying the activists with water cannons, and hurling rocks.

Television news showed images of both riot police and activists hurling stones at each other.

Howard, speaking from London, said more than 50 activists were injured in the scuffle, including to the head and neck. The group’s Web site showed images of injured activists.

In a statement, the group said it has blocked the entrance to the port to prevent the riot police from entering.

An Egyptian security official said the activists used two trucks to block the port gates, burned tires, and briefly detained a police officer and four of his men. They were later released, some with broken ribs.

The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Al-Sakka, the Jordanian activist, said the police charged a peaceful sit-in at the gates of the port. He said the group was not allowed to get out of the port building, denying government claims they have took control of the premise.

“The Egyptians were too high-strung. The police is the reason for the tension,” al-Sakka said.

He said six activists were detained, including Americans and British citizens. The security official said five were detained, but didn’t identify them. U.S. embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.