Egypt allows through Gaza aid convoy after protests
RAFAH, Egypt (Reuters) - Egypt has reached a deal with members of an aid convoy to take supplies to Palestinians in Gaza after protests overnight, but Cairo barred their private cars from crossing, an Egyptian security source said.
Cairo had insisted the food and other supplies should enter Gaza via an Israeli-controlled checkpoint but convoy leaders wanted to use the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing.
Overnight, Egyptian security forces and members of the convoy, which is led by left-wing British politician George Galloway, threw stones at each other when tempers frayed over the route the trucks were to take.
And in a further sign of the tensions surrounding the border, an Egyptian soldier was killed and four Palestinians were wounded in a gunbattle in Rafah during a separate protest against an anti-smuggling wall Cairo is building on the Gaza border.
The official Egyptian news agency MENA said 17 Egyptian soldiers were also injured and seven foreign activists were arrested.
The shooting was the most serious incident between Egyptian forces and Hamas since Cairo began an underground steel barrier a month ago. The project could choke off the movement of weapons and goods through tunnels into the Gaza Strip.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of the territory, which is ruled by Hamas Islamists who oppose international efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.
TRUCKS TO GO THROUGH
Under the compromise aid deal, 158 trucks will be allowed through Rafah in Gaza, the Egyptian security source said, but 40 private cars in the convoy would have to stay in Egypt for a month for security procedures and then pass through into Gaza via an Israeli checkpoint.
As part of the deal, Turkey would intervene to guarantee that Israel would allow the cars into Gaza, the source said.
A Turkish Foreign spokesperson said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had spoken to his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Aboul Gheit early on Wednesday and the pair were in frequent contact over the progress of the convoy.
The Egyptian security source said some of the trucks had already begun their journey, with the Rafah authorities allowing in 20 at a time. MENA said Egypt would close the Rafah border on Thursday after the convoy had passed through into Gaza.
Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party welcomed the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, but rejected any attempt to violate Egypt's border controls.
The deal followed a sometimes violent confrontation in the early hours in the Egyptian port city of Arish, some 40 km (25 miles) from the border with Gaza.
A Reuters correspondent saw security forces throwing stones at several hundred people travelling with the convoy, and police used water cannon to force them to end an occupation of the harbour. Around 40 convoy members suffered minor injuries and 15 police were hurt, witnesses said.
Cairo has imposed strict regulations and restrictions on pro-Palestinian foreign activists who have held protests in Egypt since late December to mark the first anniversary of Israel's three-week offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
(Writing by Yasmine Saleh; Additional reporting by Patrick Werr and Yasmine Salah; Editing by Jon Boyle)
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