Egypt says Gaza activists stopped over safety concerns
An Italian convoy upon arriving at the Palestinian side of Rafah crossing after being stuck in Egypt for a week (ALRAY PHOTO: January 3, 2014): )
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ALRAY, Gaza - Egypt said on Thursday it stopped a delegation of women activists from reaching the Gaza Strip as it feared for their safety while travelling through the restive Sinai Peninsula.

About 100 women from Europe and the United States intended to go to the Palestinian enclave through Egypt's Rafah border crossing to celebrate International Women's Day on Saturday.

But the Egyptian authorities stopped them at Cairo airport, and have already deported Northern Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire and American anti-war activist Medea Benjamin who wanted to join the delegation.

On Thursday, the authorities had prevented about 45 activists, mostly from France, from entering the country, an organiser of the delegation told AFP.

Prior to travelling, the group had asked to pass through the Rafah crossing in northern Sinai, but the authorities urged them to abandon the trip, foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said.

The group was told "the timing was not appropriate... given the current extraordinary security conditions in northern Sinai and the difficulty of ensuring the security of the activist group until they reached the Rafah crossing," he said.

On Thursday, Egyptian authorities proposed 27 of the activists be deported, but they refused as they did want to leave without the other women, the organiser said.

But Egypt allowed about 30 women to enter the country, and this group was trying to reach Gaza, the organiser said, adding the delegation was still negotiating with the authorities.

The Rafah terminal saw frequent closures since the Egyptian military deposed the freely-elected president in early July 2013. 

Since then, Egypt has repeatedly closed the Rafah border crossing, leading to an extreme decline in the number of solidarity and aid delegations bound for Gaza.

A government committee report published recently marked a significant decrease in the number of aid delegations to Gaza during January and February of 2014.

Foreign ministry’s ‘Government Committee to Break the Siege’ said it received three delegations of 32 members last January.

The number of delegations decreased by 95% compared to the same period last year, where the committee received 97 delegations of 2500 supporters, the committee added.

The Rafah crossing has been the principal connection between Gaza's 1.7 million residents and the outside world since the imposition of an economic blockade by Israel beginning in 2007.

AFP contributed to this report.

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