A delegation of pro-Palestinian activists, mainly French and Egyptian, crossed into Gaza from Egypt on Thursday to deliver aid, after previous failed attempts.
“I am very excited, very very happy, because this is the first time we succeeded in entering,” delegation head Olivia Zemor, of French group EuroPalestine told AFP at the border.
The “Welcome to Palestine” delegation is to stay in the territory until January 1, in solidarity with the people of Gaza and in protest against the Israeli blockade in force since 2006, organisers say.
It includes 60 French members and 25 Egyptians, along with Belgian and US citizens, and entered Gaza through the Rafah border terminal, the only land crossing between the territory and the outside world not dependent on Israel, which also maintains an air and sea blockade.
The visitors brought drugs, surgical supplies and French textbooks, the organisers said.
In the past, several similar “Welcome to Palestine” initiatives failed when activists were refused entry by air to Tel Aviv and by land from Jordan into the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Zemor said that a request to the government of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was also turned down before his ouster early last year.
“We tried before but Mubarak did not accept,” she said.
“Israel of course never wanted us to come here because we are in solidarity with the Palestinians. We are active for Palestine; for Palestinian prisoners, for the boycott of Israeli goods and for the liberation of Palestine, all of Palestine; Gaza the West Bank and Palestinian refugees,” she said.
The Israeli blockade on Gaza was first imposed in June 2006 following the capture by militants from the territory of an Israeli soldier, who was eventually freed in October 2011 in a trade for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
It was strengthened in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza, then eased somewhat following an international outcry over the killing of nine activists in a 2010 Israeli commando raid on a flotilla trying to break the naval blockade.
In 2011, a UN report found the commandos used excessive force but ruled that the blockade itself was legal.
Israel says that its restrictions do not affect the civilian population of Gaza and that it allows 50,000 tons of goods to enter each week.