Int'l activists to march in Gaza

GAZA CITY: Dozens of international activists were to lead marches on both sides of a Gaza border crossing on Thursday in protest against Israeli closures imposed on the Hamas-ruled territory, organisers said.

"It's a non-violent, peaceful gathering and the aim is to show the international community the suffering of the people of Gaza," Amjad al-Shawa, a Gaza-based organiser, told AFP.

Eighty-six international activists were allowed to enter the Gaza Strip on Wednesday from Egypt via the Rafah crossing, the only terminal not controlled by Israel, which has been mostly closed since Hamas seized power in June 2007.

Another 1,200 activists from around 40 countries remained in Cairo after the Egyptian authorities declined to allow the entire group to enter Gaza because of what they called the "sensitive situation" in the Palestinian territory.

The activists planned to march from northern Gaza to the Erez crossing with Israel, the main pedestrian entry and exit point used by medical patients, journalists, diplomats and aid groups.

On the Israeli side of the crossing, another group of activists from an east Jerusalem neighbourhood that has been the site of recent conflict between Palestinians and hardline Jewish settlers was to hold a parallel march.

Shawa said the location was chosen to highlight the effects of the siege and ties between the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank. It was also aimed at commemorating the first anniversary of Israel's massive offensive on Gaza.

Israel and Egypt have sealed the Gaza enclave off from all but vital humanitarian aid since Hamas -- an armed Islamist group pledged to Israel's destruction -- seized power there in June 2007.

On December 27, 2008 Israel launched a massive military offensive on Gaza in a bid to halt Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks. Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the 22-day conflict.