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Egypt Sends Ambulances Into Gaza

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

That border crossing between Gaza and Egypt remains officially closed, but a trickle of aid is getting through. Today, NPR's Peter Kenyon rode with one Egyptian convoy that tried to deliver medicine and supplies. He sent this report.

PETER KENYON: Dr. Ala Masrud(ph) is looking a bit groggy, but he's smiling. He's been up all night, loading trucks with medical supplies in the port city of Alexandria on Egypt's north coast. Well before dawn, he and his colleagues climbed in for the eight-hour drive to the Gaza border town of Rafa. Just before the bridge across to the Sinai Peninsula, the convoy stops to gather intelligence about the upcoming checkpoints. Masrud says some aid trucks have been stopped by Egyptian authorities for reasons that are still not entirely clear. For that matter, with the ground offensive under way inside Gaza, who knows what will happen to their donation if it does reach the border crossing.

Dr. ALA MASRUD: We are going, and we don't know what is the situation, so we'll wait maybe one day, two days, one week. Whatever it will take, we will be here until we deliver this help to the people there in Gaza.

KENYON: His concerns proved well-founded. At every checkpoint, the convoy is forced to stop, show papers, and explain its mission one more time. The sun is now high in the sky, and the radio reports from inside Gaza continue to paint a picture of hospitals in which exhausted physicians, nurses, and volunteers grapple with a never-ending wave of patience.

Farther along, at one of the last checkpoints in the Sinai, the police get especially bureaucratic. Phone calls are made to headquarters. Voices are raised. The drivers turn off their engines and slump down in their seats. Suddenly, there's a flurry of action. The police have decided to escort the aid convoy to the border.

A line of ambulances is waiting at the border crossing. And police are directing tractor-trailers loaded with donations from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Malaysia, Indonesia, and elsewhere into haphazard lines. The activity is punctuated by deafening blasts as the Israeli Air Force targets the southern Gaza Strip.

(Soundbite of blasts)

KENYON: In the crowd massing at the black metal border gate, Jordanian doctor Muhammad Hawaldi(ph) hovers purposefully, but without much hope of getting in. He's a neurosurgeon, someone whose skills are probably desperately wanted just a few miles from here inside Gaza. He says there are several doctors here just waiting for a chance to help.

Dr. MUHAMMAD HAWALDI (Jordanian Neurosurgeon): We are here from two days, but no chance to go inside. And now, it's a maximum emergency to be inside.

KENYON: Inside the no man's land between Egypt and the southern edge of Gaza, Egyptian and Palestinian trucks maneuver into position to transfer goods from one to the other as the whine of an Israeli unmanned drone fills the air. All at once, Dr. Masrud appears. Against the odds, his trucks are next in line to send their supplies into Gaza.

Dr. MASRUD: But I think we achieved our target today at least. Yes, a small success. Our success, our real success? We need peace.

KENYON: Peace seems far off today. And with the Gaza Strip cut into three sections by the Israeli army, the chances of this aid getting through to Gaza City seem slim. But Dr. Masrud looks content that on this day at least he's done all he can. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, at the Gaza-Egypt border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.