Sakir Yildirim, who runs a Kebab business in Fishponds, and Keith Darkin, a retired architectural technician from Montpelier, left Bristol on Friday 22nd February. They were driving a mini-bus, bought with local donations, which was loaded with donated medical and educational aid for Gaza. They joined a UK-wide convoy of ten other vehicles named the Gaza-Aid-Convoy-2013 (http://gazaaidconvoy.co.uk/ & www.facebook.com/GazaAidConvoy2013) which drove south through France and Spain, crossing to North Africa and travelling through Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. The plan was to cross Egypt and enter Gaza at the Rafah crossing
The convoy reached the Libya-Egypt border on Monday 18th March. Although the convoy was allowed to leave by the Libyan border guards it was then refused entry by the Egyptian border guards. The resulted in the bizarre situation of the convoy stranded in a car-park in no-mans-land marooned between the two borders.
Keith Darkin, who had been suffering health problems during the journey, left the convoy to return to Bristol where he has been recovering at home. Sakir stayed with the rest of the convoy team to help try to negotiate entry for the convoy through Egypt.
The convoy contacted the government in Egypt and in Gaza for permission to continue their journey.
After five days in limbo the convoy tried to approach the Egyptian border again but this lead to a violent confrontation with the guards. Vehicles were damaged; members of the convoy were beaten and arrested, by the border guards. A high-ranking officer stated that he would refuse entry regardless of any official permission.
As more of the convoyers left to return to the UK, as has been well reported, a small group were kidnapped by a local militia in Libya and three British women assaulted. Sakir was in the Turkish Embassy in Benghazi and helped negotiate their release and safe passage out of the country.
The remnants of the convoy driver arranged for the vehicles to be guarded in their isolated car-park and have now returned to the UK.
Later Sakir, and two other convoy members, crossed the Egyptian border as individuals and made their way to Gaza. They had to enter Gaza using the tunnels which are used to transport food and other essential supplies due to the Israeli siege of Gaza. Sakir’s mission was to deliver a cash donation from the Mosques in Bristol to an aid project for orphans in Gaza. Pictures of two of the orphans attached
After two days in Gaza he returned through the tunnels and flew back from Egypt arriving in Bristol late on Friday (5th April) evening
Both Sakir and Keith are available for interview and photo-opportunity. Both have various items of memorabilia from Gaza suitable for a photo-opportunity including a Palestinian scarves, hats, etc and Sakir has receipts for the donations and a bottle of sand from the beach in Gaza!
The members of the convoy are in contact and are waiting for permission for the vehicles marooned on the Libya-Egypt border to be allowed to proceed to Gaza.
Keith says “Our arrival at the Libyan/Egyptian border marked the end of the journey for me. The uniformed armed border police were violent towards us on one occasion – they weren’t going to let us through. They said we’d have to get permission from Israel! It’s obvious to me that Israel pulls the strings in this scenario keeping the people of Gaza imprisoned. The UN, the US & UK Governments collude in this shameful oppression giving money and weaponry to Israel and so the Palestinians are faced with a Western world which does nothing to help”.
Sakir says “The past six weeks have been really difficult for everyone on the convoy. And getting stuck on the border has been so frustrating. By going ahead to Gaza, and braving the tunnels, at least some of the donations have been delivered; and it’s reminded us about the very real need and the dreadful suffering of the people there. Even while I was there someone was injured in a bombing raid by the Israeli planes. But delivering the money to the orphans project made it all worthwhile. It’s been a real struggle, and it’s not over yet until we can go back and get the rest of the convoy through to Gaza.”