Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Green Party Councillor under house arrest in Egypt

Norwich councillor in Gaza house arrest.

A Norwich councillor has been placed under house arrest in Egypt after trying to reach the Gaza Strip to deliver art materials to people traumatised by the conflict in the territory.

Peter Offord, Green county councillor for Thorpe Hamlet, set off last week to join the Gaza Freedom March, a 1,000-strong international delegation calling for the borders to be re-opened to let in humanitarian aid and mark the first anniversary of a conflict with Israel which saw more than 1,400 people killed.

The 62-year-old managed to reach the Egyptian city of el-Arish, about 40km away from the Gaza Strip, but at 12pm on Sunday he was among around 30 activists who were detained in their hotel.

Road blocks have also been set up around the town, with the Egyptian security forces preventing taxis carrying people who appear to be European, from leaving, with two protesters having been stopped and
detained by police.

Mr Offord, a qualified art therapist, who hoped to visit the newly set up Palestine Trauma Centre in Gaza and donate art materials, said: “We are pretty much under house arrest. We can leave the apartments so long as we don't take our luggage with us, but the minute we pick up our bags, they stop us from leaving.

“The internet connection at the hotel has either gone down or been cut off and there are plain-clothed police at the front and back of the hotel.

“My main aim is getting the art materials to the trauma centre, so I am trying to make contact with the Egyptian Foreign Minister to see if, even if I can't go there, it would be possible for someone else to take
the materials to them.”

On New Year's Eve the group hopes to walk from Gaza City to the Erez border crossing to meet a delegation from the Israeli side comprising of Palestinians and Jews who are also calling on the Israeli government to open the border crossing.

But Mr Offord said the group was becoming increasingly frustrated and that such as meeting was looking unlikely to happen unless the Egyptian security forces relented.

He said: “We are frustrated, sad and angry. From the outset we made clear this was a peaceful protest, but as soon as we arrived they enforced a law saying it was unlawful to gather in groups of six or more, so the main protest was banned.

“We are looking at ways we might still be able to get there, but people are becoming demoralised.”

Mr Offord said the trip had still fulfilled its objective to raise awareness of the situation in Gaza and help victims of the conflict.

“It is vital that Gaza and Palestine are not forgotten by the rest of the world,” he said. “It highlights the need for both sides to come to a peaceful resolution.”

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