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One dead in aid convoy clash on Egypt, Gaza border

From Kevin Flower CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief
  • Hamas-organized protest against delay of aid convoy spearheaded by UK lawmaker
  • Convoy delayed in the Egyptian port city of Al-Arish after being refused entry at another Egyptian port
  • Organizers accused Egypt of making the convoy pass through an Israeli-controlled checkpoint
  • Palestinians angry at what some call Cairo's complicity in helping Israel maintain Gaza blockade

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Egyptian security forces along the Gaza border Wednesday over the delay of an expected aid convoy, leaving dozens of Palestinians wounded and one Egyptian soldier dead, Egyptian and Palestinian sources said.

The convoy, spearheaded by British Parliamentarian George Galloway, had been delayed in the Egyptian port city of Al-Arish Tuesday after being refused entry at another Egyptian port.

The Hamas-organized rally began peacefully but degenerated into violence with hundreds of Palestinians throwing rocks across the border wall.

Sounds of gunfire could be heard from video shot at the scene, but the source of the gunfire was unclear.

An official with the Egyptian Ministry of Health told CNN a 21-year-old soldier had been shot twice in the back and died of his wounds. Egyptian State television reported that the gunfire was believed to have come from Palestinians on the Gaza side of the border.

Video: Egypt-Gaza clashes
Video: Gaza's deadly tunnels
  • Gaza
  • Egypt
  • Hamas

A spokesman for the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza, Salah Bardaweel, told CNN that 35 Palestinians were injured in the clashes. Ten of the injured suffered gunshot wounds and two of the victims were in critical condition, Bardaweel said.

By Wednesday evening, Egypt began to allow some vehicles from the "Viva Palestina" aid convoy into Gaza, convoy organizers said. It was not immediately clear how many vehicles would be permitted to cross the border.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told CNN that the problems began when the convoy organizers claimed that 43 sedan cars needed to be allowed into Gaza with the humanitarian aid convoy.

"We didn't block any trucks, what we blocked were 43 sedan cars that came about in this convoy as part of an aid delivery," Zaki said. "We didn't think there was room for sedan cars in a humanitarian convoy."

He also denied that Egypt had gone back on a deal agreed to last year with the convoy organizers to let the aid go through.

"That is a blatant lie," Zaki said. "We told them there was a mechanism they had to go through to get into Gaza... they've been deliberately trying to ignore those procedures.

"When they did follow (them), they went in," he added.

He blamed the violence on the people who participated in the convoy, whom he called "activists of the violent type."

"When they were told of our decision about the 43 sedan cars... they started taking up rocks against security officers, they have actually taken three soldiers in custody, they have threatened security forces," Zaki said.

Palestinian anger with the Egyptian government has been growing for what some Hamas officials have called Cairo's "complicity" in helping Israel maintain a three-year blockade of Gaza.

Protesters rally to end blockade

The aid convoy left London, England, December 6 and after a series of delays was stuck in Al-Arish, Egypt, while it waited for government permission to cross into Gaza.

In a news release, organizers said protests between activists and Egyptian security forces broke out Tuesday night when Egyptian authorities at Al-Arish ordered some trucks in the convoy to pass through an Israeli-controlled checkpoint. The activists preferred the goods to be transported via Egypt's Rafah crossing, which sits directly on the border of Gaza.

Galloway told Britain's Sky News Wednesday that it was "completely unconscionable" that Egypt would direct 25 percent of the convoy to an Israeli crossing, saying it "would never make it to Gaza."

Convoy participants said more than 1,000 security personnel were deployed by Egypt, and that ten members of the convoy were injured, four of them seriously, and seven others arrested.

"It is shocking that the Egyptian government is behaving in this way. There can be no justification for preventing this aid, and the people who have worked so hard to provide it, from reaching Gaza," said Betty Hunter, a convoy organizer.

"The Palestinians are waiting for this well-publicized international convoy to arrive, and these actions of the Egyptian government and the building of Egypt's steel wall signal that Egypt is colluding with the Israeli government's illegal siege of Gaza," she added.

A factsheet provided by the Egyptian government appeared to contradict Hunter's allegations, citing the 9,813 tons of food and 7,956 tons of medicine and medical items for Palestinians that have passed through various Egyptian crossings into Israel and Gaza in the past 12 months.

"Within the framework of Egypt's permanent commitment to easing the burden of the Palestinian people through pushing towards opening all crossings before the access of humanitarian aid ... Egypt has exerted, and still exerts, all efforts and have made coordination and understanding with all the parties concerned to keep the crossings open," the factsheet from the Cairo Press Center said.

Bardaweel told CNN he hoped the incident "will not affect the Egyptian-Palestinian relationship," and he expressed surprise at Egypt's delay of the aid convoy.

"There is no need for the use of violence against the people who were welcoming this convoy, and we hope things will return to normal very soon," he said.

The Islamist group Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Since then, the coastal strip of 1.5 million people has been subject to a punishing economic embargo by Israel, which has greatly limited goods coming in and out and increased poverty in the war-torn territory.

Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

CNN's Paula Hancocks in Jerusalem contributed to this report.