Egypt arrests doctor who volunteered to treat wounded Palestinians
Egyptian authorities have arrested a doctor who volunteered to treat Palestinians wounded by Israel's deadly airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.
Hossam El-Din Shaaban, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Qasr Al-Aini Hospital in Cairo had joined a team of doctors travelling to the border city of Rafah in northern Sinai to treat Palestinians wounded in Gaza.
However, he was arrested by the Egyptian army on the grounds that he had "disclosed military secrets" by tweeting about his trip.
Shaaban published a series of posts on his Twitter account, which are no longer available, detailing his journey through the northern Sinai, a restive area where the Egyptian state has recently been battling insurgents affiliated to the Islamic State group (IS).
One of them read: "We headed in the morning from the city of Bir al-Abd [in northwestern Sinai] towards El-Arish, with a security force consisting of two signal-jamming cars, three armoured vehicles, a jeep, and an explosive detection unit, and we crossed 80 kilometres in five totally exhausting hours."
Later tweets by Shaaban mentioned a meeting with Egypt's assistant health minister and the distribution of various health teams to hospitals in the cities of Rafah, El-Arish, and Sheikh Zuwayed in Sinai.
Egyptian medical officials reported last Saturday that 10 ambulances had been sent to the Egyptian border to evacuate wounded people from Gaza. 200 people have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza since last week, with more than 1,300 injured.
Sources on the border said on Sunday that 263 Palestinians were taken to Egypt to receive medical treatment.
However, Shaaban’s tweets appeared to contradict this.
"No injured person has passed through the crossing. We’re still waiting for confirmation from the health ministry. My information is that the crossing will open on Monday but this could change," one read.
Pro-government media in Egypt have emphasised the government’s efforts to provide assistance to Palestinians caught up in Israel’s fierce assault on the Gaza Strip, using the slogan “Egypt supports Palestine” and highlighting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s calls for an end to violence.
However, pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been banned and traders in central Cairo have told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service that police have confiscated Palestinian flags from them in an effort to stop demonstrations.
Omar Morsi, a young protester who raised the Palestinian flag in Cairo's Tahrir Square, disappeared last Friday. He is believed to have been arrested and his family has no information about his whereabouts.
Freedom of expression is severely restricted in Egypt, where tens of thousands of activists and government opponents have been arrested ever since current President Sisi overthrew the country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi, in a military coup in 2013.
In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to recognise and sign a peace treaty with Israel.
However, there is a high level of popular sympathy with the Palestinian cause. Approximately 1,200 doctors have registered with the Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate to volunteer to treat Palestinians.