Cii News | 03 September 2014/08 Dhul Qa’dah 1435

A flurry of angry telephone calls and other interventions targeting the local Egyptian Embassy proved instrumental in removing frustrating bureaucratic barriers that had been placed in the way of a South African medical mission heading to Gaza last week.

This dramatic turnaround in the official Egyptian policy towards the flagship convoy has been revealed by the head of NGO Gift of the Givers, that has subsequently gained entry, and is currently working on the ground in Gaza.

In a press communique issued yesterday from the Occupied Palestinian territory, Doctor Imtiaz Sooliman said the welcome breakthrough came after days of tense negotiations, uncertainty, anxiety and even outright frustration.

“The journey was long as the whole process had to be facilitated by South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Co-operation(Dirco) with the Egyptian Government both through the Embassy in Pretoria and directly in Cairo. Even though the Egyptian Ambassador was called in to Dirco on 24 July and officially informed in writing of our intention to cross the Rafah border the approval only came on 20 August although initially we were told it takes 5 days. The drama didn’t end there. Having departed South Africa on 26 August and expecting to travel to Rafah on 28 August we were called by the Egyptian Government and asked not to leave for Rafah even though approval was given in writing to Dirco. A very angry reaction by the South African public to Egypt’s response saw thousands of phone calls and emails being sent to the Egyptian Embassy on Friday, 29 August. The reaction was immediate. That same night we were called to say that our approval was immediate and we were cleared to travel. We left at 3 am on Saturday morning and crossed the Rafah border just after 2pm. It was an eleven hour journey but we had no difficulty, obstruction or deliberate delays either at the many Egyptian checkpoints en route or at the Rafah border.”

Nonetheless, in spite of the progress, Dr Sooliman says the humanitarian aid component of his convoy is still tied up awaiting clearance and pending approval from the Egyptians.

“This pattern of obstruction and deliberate delays for the entry of supplies is characteristic of the Egyptians as almost every aid initiative has been frustrated through their intransigence,” he said.

The medical equipment and supplies are still holed up in a warehouse in Macedonia as Dirco battles to secure clearance from the Egyptian Government for almost a week now. These supplies are central to the South African team’s mission as they attempt to work inside health facilities battered by years of crippling siege and war.

“Inside Gaza there is a shortage of equipment, spare parts and zero availability of at least a 150 categories of essential drugs and zero availability of 52 categories of essential theatre items severely impeding medical procedures which are urgently required for a civilian population in great need of instant medical care,” Dr Sooliman explained.

Despite this hurdle, the acclaimed humanitarian said the spirit of the team remains high with members doing their best to work with Gazans.

“In spite of the fact that the Egyptians only granted permission to 10 medical personnel to cross Rafah even though we had requested permission for 38 given the huge medical response that is required in Gaza, we are finding ways to be effective.”

*For a picture essay chronicling the team’s work and observations in Gaza, CLICK HERE

*Listen to the latest audio report delivered by Dr Sooliman from Gaza HERE

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