Gaza-bound land convoy reaches Sudan By Isma’il Kushkush, For CNN July 28, 2011 — Updated 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
Land convoy from South Africa is bound for Gaza
The convoy has crossed seven countries so far. Prospects for driving across Egypt are uncertain, organizers say
A humanitarian land convoy heading to Gaza from South Africa reached Port Sudan, Sudan on the Red Sea Wednesday and is destined to become the first relief mission to Gaza from Africa. “I was inspired last year by the convoys that went to Gaza from Europe, so we asked ourselves; why not from Africa?” said Sheikh Walid al-Saadi of the South African Relief Agency (SARA).
After eight months of preparation, the land convoy which consists of ten trucks, explained al-Saadi, departed Durban, South Africa on June 26 and has passed through seven countries thus far including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan. It is to unload its shipment of humanitarian aid in Port Sudan on ships that will head to Suez, Egypt where members of the convoy will receive their trucks after flying to Egypt from Sudan.
The convoy has received the support of several South African leaders including Bishop Desmond Tutu who said in a YouTube video message: “I want to congratulate SARA and wish them well. You are helping to do God’s work; God bless you.”
Gaza has been under a land, sea and air blockade by Israel since 2007. Israeli authorities say the blockade is to limit rocket attacks fired from Gaza and to prevent Hamas authorities who govern the Gaza from obtaining weapons and funds. Egyptian authorities had maintained a blockade on Gaza from 2007 to 2011.
Last May, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said that the blockade of Gaza has resulted in a stifling of economic activity and a serious decline in education, health care and water and sanitation services.
The Africa to Gaza Aid Convoy’s mission follows recent attempts by European and American ships to reach Gaza as part of a coalition known as Freedom Flotilla II but were blocked from doing so. They include the American ship The Audacity of Hope flotilla that was prevented by Greek authorities from sailing to Gaza from Athens and the French ship Dignite-Al-Karma that was intercepted by an Israeli naval ship.
Last year, Israeli commandos prevented the Gaza Freedom Flotilla from reaching Gaza from Turkey and bordered the ship Mavi Marmara. The raid on the ship led to the death of nine Turkish activists. “We are a peaceful convoy on an aid mission,” affirms al-Saadi. “We can’t predict what is going to happen, we know there’s pressure on the Egyptian government, but you never know.”
According to al-Saadi, the Egyptian government has not allowed the convoy to drive on Egyptian land and has requested they go straight via sea from Port Sudan to Al-Arish near the Egyptian-Gaza border. “[But] the ships from Port Sudan can only go to Suez, so we are trying to solve this problem,” he says.
The trip from South Africa to Sudan has had its challenges, al-Saadi explains. “We were delayed at some borders for no clear reasons and some of the roads were very bad,” he says. “We got to a place between Zambia and Tanzania that was full of pot holes; I think if one of the trucks had fallen into one you would’ve needed a crane to take it out.”
The convoy’s shipment, al-Saadi continues, is carrying aid to the people of Gaza including “one hundred and twenty two generators, diapers for the elderly and children, cloths, stationery, and we intend to buy medicine in Egypt.” Palesa Rasekoala, 46, an architect and member of the convoy says “after the last Gaza War, the images I saw, of legs being amputated without anesthesia, for me, that was it, I don’t’ know the details, but I know a wrong is being done.”
Rasekoala, a granddaughter of South African ANC activists, continued: “As a South African and after what we went through and coming out of that and having the support of the world, and as a Christian, I had to take a stand.”