With 27 December marking the one-year anniversary of the start of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s deadly month-long assault on the Gaza Strip, much of the global English-language coverage of the region focused on commemorations and the Egyptian government’s attempts to stifle them.
Two separate activist convoys have found their plans to converge of the Rafah border blocked at all turns by the Egyptian government. As of early Monday morning, the situation was still ambiguous, but the government was actively squashing all public shows of support or protest regarding Gaza. An aid and solidarity convoy led by British politician George Galloway remained stuck in the Jordanian port of Aqaba after Egypt repeatedly denied them entry via ferry into Nuweiba. Convoy members are staging a sit-in and a hunger strike.
In Cairo, a second international protest march faced similar official opposition, with some activists writing first-person accounts of their ordeals making direct appeals to President Mubarak to let them through to Sinai. Those activists who did manage to evade the cordon and reach Sinai found themselves rounded-up in El-Arish, the coastal town that is the gateway to Rafah.
The Gaza anniversary has also stirred up another round of regional criticism of Egypt’s role in keeping the territory under blockade. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, a frequent critic of Egypt’s Gaza policy, called on Cairo to halt construction of a metal border wall. Nasrallah accused Egypt of “choking off an entire people.”
Meanwhile, Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit remained the center of speculation, as talk continued of an imminent deal to free the Hamas hostage in exchange for a mass release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel. The release was long-rumored to be timed to the Islamic new year earlier this month. That deadline has passed, but the chatter continues, and the subject will no doubt take center stage when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Cairo this week.