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'Asia to Gaza' negotiates entry with Cairo PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 December 2010 10:46
The Governmental Committee for breaking the siege 

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On the second anniversary of Israel’s 22-day war on Gaza, a pan-Asian convoy of activists representing more than a dozen countries awaits Cairo’s approval to enter the besieged strip. The ‘Asia to Gaza’ convoy, which took off from New Delhi on December 2, is currently stuck in Latakia, Syria, as its spokesmen continue negotiations with Cairo, via Egypt’s ambassador to Damascus, on how the aid convoy can enter Gaza.

According to Asia to Gaza’s founder, Feroze Mithiborwala, the convoy is negotiating how it will enter Gaza via Egypt.

Speaking to Ahram Online by phone from Latikia on Monday, Mithiborwala said the convoy has two options: either sail from Latikia to El-Arish port of Egypt, then take buses to Gaza, or fly to Arish and ship their $1 million worth of aid supplies (including medicine, ambulances and solar generators for electricity) by sea.

“We are in the middle of talks,” he said, “we’re negotiating and renegotiating everything [with the Egyptians] so we’re not in a position to give details.”

The convoy’s Twitter account posted information late on Sunday that Egypt granted entry visas to “Indian and Indonesian activists” but without permission to cross into Gaza.

The Asia to Gaza convoy consists of 125 to 160 people from more than 15 countries including India, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Kuwait. It was scheduled to reach Gaza by December 27, in time for the second anniversary of Israel's 22-day war on the Strip that started on December 28, 2008. Approximately 1,400 Palestinians were killed and 5,000 injured or maimed in the three-week war. Half of Gaza's infrastructure was destroyed and remains unrepaired as a result of Israel's siege, which includes a ban on the entry of building materials into the strip.

The convoy stopped in Pakistan, Iran, then Turkey and arrived in Syria on December 20. While this route was the only obvious path by land to Syria’s Latikia port, Mithiborwala said that the Iranian-Syrian-Turkish itinerary is also a political statement as this is the “alliance” that supports the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation.

The convoy's hosts, from civil societies in each of the four countries including Pakistan, covered the boarding and travel expenses of the convoy.

Mithiborwala, 43, is the “national coordinator” of the Free Gaza movement in India. He says he became involved with the Palestinian question 23 years ago with the first Intifada in 1987. “I realized early on that Palestinian question is the central geopolitical question of our times. It’s a moral issue of our age,” he said.

But to him, Israel and US imperialism is larger in scope than an issue of occupied Palestinian territory alone. He says that twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union (1991), there’s a realignment of governments with the US that India became a part of. “There’s an increased Zionist lobby in the security apparatus of India and its damaging and undermining our country’s sovereignty,” he said.

“My battle for Palestine is also the battle for India and all of Asia. The world can’t be free unless Palestine is free and when that happens, we’ll witness the collapse of American and Zionist imperialism.”

Mithiborwala says he was inspired to create ‘Asia to Gaza’ from Viva Palestina, a life line from Britain to Gaza - and the brainchild of former British MP George Galloway - which attempted to break the siege three times since 2009.

“If they could reach Gaza by land from London, then we can do it from Delhi,” Mithiborwala said.

It was after the Israeli navy’s bloody attack on a Gaza-bound flotilla of ships mainly from Turkey, killing nine Turkish peace activists abroad the vessel Mavi Marmara on 31 May, that Mithiborwala said he started talking to friends about organizing a land caravan. Initial talks began with several Asian countries, in addition to Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and various international Palestine solidarity activists.

“We had it all planned and we raised resources from people’s organizations in four months,” he said.

The “caravan” has covered 7000 km since it departed Dehli. Whether or not it will face the same fate as previous convoys which attempted – usually without success - to break the siege of Gaza via Egypt by land or sea, remains unknown. Whatever they will encounter, “is nothing compared to what the Palestinians suffer on a daily basis,” said Mithiborwala, “we’re willing to face any hardships, including death.”