A worker pulls a trolley containing some of the 84 tonnes (76,204 kilograms) of supplies being donated to the people of Gaza by Gift of the Givers, a South African aid organisation, at a warehouse in Johannesburg January 21, 2009. The supplies, which will be flown to Gaza, include medical equipment, food, baby milk, mattresses, an ambulance and other humanitarian aid-related items. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibebo (SOUTH AFRICA)

Cape Town - The Department of International Relations and Co-operation has secured safe passage for the Gift of the Givers relief team to enter Gaza.

Plans to send a team of South African medical specialists into the war-torn area have been in the pipeline for almost two months. But the mission has been continuously delayed as the NGO struggled to get permission from the Egyptian government to cross into the Gaza Strip.

That was until Thursday, when the organisation’s founder Imtiaz Sooliman received word that he and his team would have restricted access to the area.

“They have given us a special approval number which will allow us to safely cross the Rafah border crossing with all our supplies.”

Department spokesman Clayson Monyela said a good relationship with Egypt was at the heart of the successful negotiations, adding that South Africa had always kept its “doors open” with the country. Monyela said South Africa’s presence in the country was important.

“You can see the suffering of the people in Palestine and it only makes sense for us to open the door for teams such as the Gift of the Givers to provide urgent medical relief where it has been so limited up until now.”

But there are a few catches to this access.

Permission has been granted for only 10 personnel. It’s a restriction that Egypt has applied to all international relief teams.

This means Sooliman has picked the most elite members from his team, including doctors who can perform in medical fields outside of their specialisation.

A cargo aircraft has been hired to carry over 16 tons of supplies to Egypt.

“We will be taking around R15 million worth of equipment.”

Loading will begin on Saturday.

“If all goes well we will leave on Sunday.” Since the mission’s early days Gift of the Givers has reiterated that this will be a necessary but dangerous operation. A five-day ceasefire between Palestine and Israel expired this week.

Sooliman said he expected the team to complete the mission in about 12 days.

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Cape Argus