by Cam McGrath
(IPS) CAIRO --
Egyptian youth carrying explosives into the Gaza Strip was shot and killed by Israeli border guards last week. Milad Mohammed Hemeida, 24, is believed to have been carrying explosives for suicide bombers in Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.
The police believe this was an individual effort. Organized resistance groups like Hamas are more likely to use a network of tunnels beneath the heavily-guarded border. Three Palestinian youths were killed last November in flood waters after the collapse of a tunnel.
But there are many more like Hemeida. A growing number of Egyptians say they are ready to take up arms in the Palestinian struggle against Israel.
"We are ready to go to Palestine and fight the Israeli oppressors," says Moustafa, a law student wearing a black kiffeyeh. "It is the duty of every Muslim to launch jihad (holy war) against Israel. Give me a gun and I will go."
Not since the start of the Palestinian intifada 18 months ago have Egyptians shown such solidarity with Palestinians. Thousands crowd mosques across Egypt every Friday to protest against Israeli aggression. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been held on university campuses. The police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets to control demonstrators. Egyptians are angry, and the government appears unable to contain their rage.
Inside Cairo's Al-Azhar mosque last Friday, Muslims called for the government to open the border for Egyptian volunteers to join the Palestinian intifada.
Some young men in the gathering wore red bandannas bearing the slogan "Ready for martyrdom." Security forces called them "religious extremists" but now even moderates say they are prepared to do battle.
Like most Egyptian males, 31-year-old Ahmed el-Sayed follows most but not all Islamic rescripts. Now he says it would be noble to die fighting Israel. "God would take care of me," he says. "I would be a martyr."
The idea of martyrdom is not without controversy. It is traditionally seen to apply to a Muslim killed fighting aggression against his religion, land or dignity. Suicide bombing is contentious because Islam forbids suicide or the intentional killing of women, children, the elderly or the infirm.
But Egypt's top Islamic cleric appeared to give blanket support to suicide bombing when he declared it an act of martyrdom earlier this month.
"One who blows himself up among those (Israeli) aggressors is a martyr, a martyr, a martyr," Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, grand sheikh of Al-Azhar mosque was reported to have said during a sermon. "Whoever says otherwise is a liar." He later qualified his remark, saying Muslims should not target women and children.
No Egyptian is known yet to have engaged in suicide bombing. But Israeli security forces say weapons and explosives are smuggled steadily across the Egyptian border into the Gaza Strip. Many Egyptians are sympathetic to groups smuggling weapons into the occupied Palestinian territories.
Egyptian groups are also mobilising other forms of support. Entertainers have dedicated albums, music videos and charity events to raising support for the Palestinian cause. Local community groups, syndicates and commercial organizations have enforced a boycott of Israeli products.
The Egyptian Committee for Supporting the Palestinian Intifada (ECSPI) is among several NGOs offering assistance through humanitarian channels.
It raises donations for Palestinian people and promotes political support for their cause. "Whatever the cause or reason, we are supporting the intifada," the group's chairman Farid Zahra told IPS.
ECSPI sent a relief shipment earlier this month of 18 buses filled with 1,200 tons of food and medicine worth $15,000. Israeli authorities are often reluctant to let such shipments pass, and the ECSPI has to petition the United Nations, International Red Cross and other international organizations to send shipments through.
Zahra says thousands of Egyptians come to the ECSPI all fired up to join Palestinians in physical combat against Israeli soldiers. "This is a problem," he says. "People have too much spiritual energy. They want to do a lot and the basic tasks that we carry out do not appeal to them."
April 23 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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