Egypt says Gaza activists stopped over safety concerns

Around 100 women from Europe and the U.S. intended to go to the Gaza Strip to celebrate International Women’s Day

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Egypt said on Thursday it stopped a delegation of women activists from reaching the Gaza Strip as it feared for their safety while traveling 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 organizer of the delegation told AFP.

Prior to traveling, 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.

Since the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July, militants have stepped up attacks on security forces, killing scores of policemen and soldiers, mainly in northern Sinai.

The army has poured troops into the mountainous and underdeveloped peninsula, which borders Gaza and Israel.

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 organizer said.

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

The group could embarrass Egypt's military-installed government, which is at odds with Gaza's militant Hamas rulers but does not want to be seen as party to a siege of Palestinians, blockaded by Israel.

Egypt controls the only border crossing with Gaza that bypasses Israel, and is accused of colluding with the Jewish state to blockade the Hamas-ruled territory.

In 2006, a year after Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza, militants abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, and the Jewish state slapped a blockade on the enclave.

It tightened the blockade in 2007 when Hamas, which says it seeks the destruction of Israel, seized control of Gaza after routing forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The border crossing is opened irregularly.

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