BEIRUT: Organizers of a Palestinian solidarity march hoping to enter Gaza said Thursday its participants have been forcibly detained in hotels around Cairo and have faced violence from Egyptian security forces.
"Members of the Gaza Freedom March are being forcibly detained in hotels around town, in Lotus and Liala, as well as violently forced into pens in Tahrir Square by Egyptian police and additional security forces," said a statement from CODEPINK, an NGO involved with organizing the march.
1,300 marchers from 43 countries had planned to enter Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing on December 27, and then join with an estimated 50,000 Palestinian residents to march to Erez crossing into Israel to peacefully demand an end to the blockade of Gaza.
However, the Egyptian government announced just days before the delegates began arriving in Cairo that the march would not be allowed to go forward, citing ongoing tensions at the border.
Marchers had gathered Tahrir Square to demonstrate against the decision taken by President Hosni Mubarak's government to deny their entry to Gaza when trouble erupted.
"When marchers demonstrated against the decision, the government cracked down, often using heavily armed riot police to encircle and intimidate the nonviolent marchers," the statement said.
"Reports of police brutality are flooding a delegate legal hotline faster than the legal support team can answer the calls. The reports span from women being kicked, beaten to the ground and dragged into pens, at least one confirmed account of broken ribs, and many left bloody," it continued.
A blockade on Gaza has been enforced by Israel since Hamas were elected in the territory in 2006. Egypt has also enforced the blockade with sporadic interruptions. The blockade was tightened when Hamas seized power in 2007, in what some say was a pre-emption of an imminent US-backed Fatah takeover.
The blockade allows only basic humanitarian supplies into Gaza, often causing food shortages and hampering efforts to rebuild infrastructure destroyed during operation Cast Lead, the Israeli invasion launched in December 2008.
Israel says the blockade is to stop Hamas rocket fire. According to the commissioner general of UNRWA, the blockade is causing a "humanitarian catastrophe." Amnesty International has described the blockade "collective punishment."