George Galloway prepares to speak in Jordan before joining the Gaza aid convoy in Egypt. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
Egyptian security forces clashed today with a pro-Palestinian convoy led by the British MP George Galloway as it tried to deliver aid supplies into the Gaza Strip.
The convoy of 198 trucks and more than 500 supporters left London a month ago hoping to enter Gaza despite the Israeli economic blockade. The trucks are now at el-Arish, an Egyptian port on the Mediterranean, a few miles south of Gaza.
Several protesters and police officers were injured after clashes early today. Reuters reported that Egyptian police threw stones at the crowd and arrested seven demonstrators, while some members of the convoy held four harbour police officers. Police fired water cannon to disperse the crowd that had gathered to receive the aid trucks.
Israel's strict blockade of Gaza, which has been in place for more than two years, prevents all exports and limits imports to a few humanitarian items. The policy has grown ever tighter since Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement, won parliamentary elections in early 2006 and then seized full security control of Gaza a year later. Israel now regards the strip, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, as a "hostile entity".
Egypt, too, has kept its one border crossing with Gaza, at Rafah, largely closed. Egyptian officials told the convoy some of their trucks could not pass through Rafah, but had to enter into southern Israel and then pass through an Israeli-controlled crossing into Gaza. There was no guarantee that the trucks would be allowed to enter the strip.
Galloway said that was unacceptable. "We refused this," he said. "It is completely unconscionable that 25% of our convoy should go to Israel and never arrive in Gaza. Because nothing that ever goes to Israel, ever arrives in Gaza."
Egypt has tried to curb a wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the past month after hundreds of foreigners tried to reach the Gaza border to mark the one-year anniversary of Israel's war in Gaza in which nearly 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
At the same time, Egyptian officials are building a new, underground steel wall along their border with Gaza in an apparent effort to prevent smuggling. Hundreds of smuggling tunnels dug by Palestinians reach into northern Egypt and supply Gaza with a wide range of products from food to cars. Israel and the US have said they are concerned about weapons smuggling.
Israeli military officials said today they would consult more closely with their legal advisers during future combat operations after a wave of international criticism over last year's war in Gaza.
General Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff, had ordered the military to consult with legal advisers not just while planning an operation but during an offensive as well, officials said.
The orders appeared to be a reaction to the serious, documented allegations of war crimes raised by human rights groups and, most prominently, a UN investigation which was strongly critical of Israel's policy and accused both the Israeli military and Hamas of war crimes.
However, although the military has said it is investigating some incidents from the war the Israeli government has still not agreed to the independent inquiry that the UN investigation recommended. Hamas, too, has rejected any such inquiry. Israeli leaders have insisted their troops did not breach international law and were fighting in Gaza only to halt Palestinian militant rocket fire into southern Israel.
The threat of further investigations still remains, however. An Israeli military visit to Britain was cancelled last week for fear of arrests over war crimes allegations and last month a British court briefly issued an arrest warrant for the former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni before withdrawing it after realising she was not in the country.