Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Egyptian-international coalition to enter Gaza Strip via Rafah Border Crossing with ten tons of building materials

CAIRO (March 22, 2011) – The Egyptian-International Coalition for Lifting the Siege and Rebuilding Gaza, an informal grouping of concerned Egyptian citizens and foreign nationals, has announced plans to deliver several tons of building supplies and raw materials to the neighboring Gaza Strip via Egypt’s Rafah Border Crossing on March 24, 2011. 

The move comes following the successful outcome of the coalition’s earlier March 6 campaign, when it passed into the strip through the Rafah crossing with a single, symbolic 50kg bag of cement. 

“Thanks largely to the warm cooperation and support we received from the Egyptian Armed Forces and Egypt’s intelligence services, which had already proven their honorable reputations by enforcing the will of the Egyptian people in the recent January 25 Revolution, we traversed the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip without hindrance and returned to Egypt two days later,” said coalition general coordinator Ahmed Elassy.

Elassy added: "Our unhindered passage through the Rafah crossing confirmed that Egypt's armed forces stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Egyptian people regarding the urgent need to extend all possible support to the besieged Palestinians of Gaza."

Despite its modest scope, the March 6 campaign represented the first formal entry of building supplies into the Gaza Strip since the siege on the territory first went into effect in 2006. It also represented the first humanitarian delegation to enter the strip since Egypt’s January 25 Revolution, which marked the end of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. 

Egypt is under no legal obligation to participate in Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has now entered its fifth year. There are no regional or international treaties to which Egypt is signatory that require it to keep its border with the Gaza Strip closed to passengers and/or commercial cargo.

In this regard, the coalition has been heartened by recent statements by Egypt’s newly-appointed foreign minister, H.E. Dr. Nabil al-Arabi, that, in light of the recent political changes, Egypt should rethink its policy vis-à-vis the longstanding embargo on the Gaza Strip -- an embargo that, as Dr. Al-Arabi put it, “contravenes the rules of international humanitarian law, which prohibits the siege of civilians, even in times of war.” In light of these admirable statements, the coalition hopes that its upcoming visit to Gaza will receive Dr. Al-Arabi's full support and that of his ministry.

The Gaza Strip remains in desperate need of reconstruction. The three-week-long Zionist assault on the territory in 2008/2009, which killed more than 1500 people -- and maimed more than 10,000 -- also destroyed 5000 residential units and partially destroyed another 50,000. Meanwhile, 95 percent of the strip’s factories and workshops remain closed until today as a direct result of the illegal blockade. 

Approximately $5.2 billion has already been pledged by international donors, including both the US and EU, for reconstruction of the strip’s shattered infrastructure. Yet more than two years since these pledges were made, less than 5 percent of the promised funds have materialized due to donor nations’ insistence on conditioning the aid on political concessions by the government in Gaza.

The opening of the strip to badly-needed building supplies and consumer goods would be of profound benefit to Egypt’s domestic economy, which has fallen into a deep malaise over the last three decades. 

For one, it would open up a brand-new market of some 1.8 million potential consumers, eager to purchase Egyptian goods. This would immediately stimulate several pillars of the Egyptian economy -- including the cement, steel and textile industries -- which would not only generate revenue for both the Egyptian public and private sectors, but also lead to the creation of badly-needed employment opportunities for Egypt’s rapidly burgeoning labor force.

With these considerations in mind, the coalition plans to enter the Gaza Strip on March 24 through the Rafah crossing with ten tons of cement, one ton of gravel, a half-ton of steel rebars, a palette of bricks and various raw textiles materials -- all of which have been paid for in advance by Gaza-based civil society organizations. This first consignment of building supplies will go towards rebuilding a prominent mosque that was destroyed during the 2008/2009 Zionist assault.

Along with being a legitimate commercial transaction, this project also represents a people-to-people initiative; a gesture of support and good will from the free people of Egypt -- following their liberation from the autocratic rule of the Mubarak regime -- to the Palestinian people of Gaza.

“We hope this will represent but a first step towards free and open commerce between Egypt and Gaza as we move beyond the realm of mere humanitarian aid into that of legitimate international trade between sister states,” Elassy said.

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