Aid worker tells of terrifying ordeal on convoy to Gaza

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AN aid worker from Edinburgh has told how he narrowly escaped Israeli shells as he drove medical supplies into war-torn Gaza.

Bruce Whitehead, 48, from South Queensferry, has just returned from driving a lorry across Europe and the Middle East with donations.

He was part of a group which were some of the first Scottish charity workers to be allowed into Gaza since the Israeli bombardment earlier this year. They had collected 25 tons of medical aid from churches and mosques around the country.

Mr Whitehead said he was shocked by the scenes of devastation, but they had received a warm welcome from the Palestinian people.

During the trip, they saw survivors with young children living in tents after their homes had been flattened. They also visited hospitals where doctors and nurses struggled to cope with the desperate lack of medical supplies.

The Scottish Medical Aid Convoy was organised by Muslim volunteers based in Glasgow and Preston. Mr Whitehead, a freelance journalist, said he signed up at the last minute after hearing they were short of a driver.

He said: "I only heard about it the day they were leaving. They asked if I could leave in an hour. I asked my sister to drive me to Glasgow so we could catch them up."

He joined the convoy of four trucks, four transit vans, an ambulance and a jeep for their 16-day journey. They were held up for four days at the Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian borders, but after checking the contents, Egyptian border officials eventually allowed the trucks to enter Gaza.

Mr Whitehead said: "We knew it was going to be tough to get into Gaza, but we kept positive during the journey. The Egyptians and Israelis control their borders very tightly.

"At one point, as we were at the border, a massive explosion went off. An Israeli tank had fired an explosive shell on a tunnel just a few hundred metres away from where we were standing. It was absolutely terrifying.

"Once we got in, it looked quite normal at first. Then we saw a flattened house and a bombed out factory. In the centre of the city, there were buildings that had been utterly pulverised. We saw police stations bombed while fully occupied. There were hospitals desperately in need of basic stuff, such as antibiotics."

Abdul Aziz, another driver and one of the organisers, said they gave the keys to the trucks to Palestinian hospital authorities.

He said: "I hope that a lasting memory for the people of Gaza will be the knowledge that these people travelled thousands of miles across two continents to bring aid, and the knowledge that people on the other side of the world cared about them."