Agence France-Presse /Free Gaza Movement & George Psyllides / Cyprus Mail – 2010-05-30 01:04:45
Gaza Freedom Flotilla Delayed but Determined
Activists Try to Run Blockade
Video footage shows pro-Palestinian activists sailing to Gaza on board aid ships. Israeli navy commander says they will be prevented from entering the coastal enclave.
Flotilla Set for Final Leg of Gaza Blockade-busting Bid
Agence France-Presse /Free Gaza Movement
NICOSIA (May 28, 2010) — An aid flotilla that had been due to sail for Gaza on Friday in defiance of an Israeli embargo was delayed by a day because of technical snags and fears Israel might seize one of the ships, organisers said.
“We won’t begin leaving until Saturday but the boats are still going,” Audrey Bomse of the Free Gaza Movement that organised the multi-national flotilla gathering off the coast of Cyprus told AFP on Friday.
“We’ve changed the coordinates twice because reportedly Israel has threatened to capture the Turkish ship so we decided to delay getting all the boats together,” she added.
“This has delayed everything by a day because changing coordinates takes time … There were also technical difficulties with one of the boats so we had to move passengers from it on to the Turkish one,” Bomse said.
Hundreds of activists were bracing for the final leg of their attempt to bust the Gaza Strip embargo, a bid Israel vowed to defeat, as each side accused the other of violating international law.
Two cargo ships and five smaller boats loaded with thousands of tonnes of supplies and hundreds of passengers steamed towards a rendezvous off Cyprus where they planned to group before setting out for the Palestinian territory.
Organisers said an eighth ship, the Rachel Corrie that had left from Ireland, was lagging behind and would travel towards Gaza separately.
The ships will meet in international waters, they said. “The Cypriot government does not want us to leave from Cyprus. I can only assume pressure was put on them,” Bomse said.
A Cypriot government official said of the flotilla that Nicosia had not received any formal request from the Palestinian Authority for humanitarian aid.
Bomse said a plan had been abandoned to ferry about 25 multi-national MPs from Cyprus to one of the ships and that an attempt would be made to take them from the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island, minus the MPs from Greece and Cyprus.
Cypriot Communications Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis denied that the decision to forbid the flotilla to sail from Cyprus was due to Israeli pressure. “This was a decision that the Cyprus Republic took by itself.”
Israel earlier said it “issued warrants that prohibit the entrance of the vessels to Gaza” and that the flotilla would be breaking international law.
It said it intends to halt the boats and detain the people aboard in the port of Ashdod before deporting them.
Israel has stepped up its warnings in recent days and readied naval forces, as organisers dismissed the claim that their blockade-busting bid is illegal.
“Most despicably of all, Israel claims that we are violating international law by sailing unarmed ships carrying humanitarian aid to a people desperately in need,” the FGM said.
Israel imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas — an Islamist movement committed to the destruction of Israel — seized power in the impoverished, overcrowded Palestinian territory.
Because of the blockade, only limited reconstruction has been possible in the wake of a devastating 22-day offensive Israel launched on December 27, 2008.
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called for an immediate end to the embargo, which she said was “unacceptable and politically counterproductive.”
“We would like to reiterate the EU’s call for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.”
Activists have landed in Gaza five times, with another three attempts unsuccessful since their first such sea voyage in August 2008, all of them from Cyprus.
To date, the aid has been largely symbolic, but organisers say the flotilla now under way is laden with 10,000 tonnes of aid, ranging from pre-fabricated homes to pencils.
Cyprus Stops MPs from Joining Gaza Flotilla
George Psyllides / Cyprus Mail
(May 29, 2010) — Cypriot authorities prevented pro-Palestinian activists, including 30 MPs from nine European countries, from leaving the island yesterday to join a flotilla in international waters, which is on its way to blockaded Gaza.
In addition to issuing an edict banning ships headed for Gaza to set sail from the island’s ports, or dock on the island on their way back, the authorities yesterday forbade any small vessels from leaving Cyprus in case they were on their way to the flotilla of eight ships carrying around 700 peace activists, and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid.
This is the eighth time activists have tried to break the Israeli embargo on Gaza. On the seven other occasions, the aid ships left from Cyprus’ ports.
What is unusual this time is not the actual ban on the Free Gaza ships docking at the island’s ports, but the governmentâ€™s refusal to allow small vessels to leave the island simply to drop people off at a ship in international waters.
“Anything related to the trip to Gaza is not permitted,” police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos told Reuters yesterday.
A spokesman for the Free Gaza group said the activists, including 17 members of parliament from Ireland, Bulgaria and Sweden, would attempt to meet the flotilla by departing through the north. “We are bitterly disappointed with the Cypriot government,” Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for Free Gaza Movement told the news agency.
Cypriot MEP Kyriakos Triantafyllides told the Cyprus Mail that around 20 of the foreign MPs had earlier in the day decided to head north to try and sail from occupied Famagusta port, while their Greek and Cypriot counterparts stayed behind.
Triantafyllides said however that in the late afternoon he heard that those MEPs who crossed north were returning to the government-controlled areas, having failed to secure a way off the island through Famagusta.
Authorities in the north said yesterday evening they had no information about a group of MEPs wanting to use Famagusta port to join the Gaza convoy.
The government yesterday defended its decision. “It is well known that the Republic of Cyprus is fighting for survival and believes that any actions that cause difficulties, damage even, should be avoided,” deputy government spokesman Titos Christofides said.
The government also denied it bowed to pressure from Israel to put the ban in place.
“It was the result of a decision which the Republic of Cyprus took on its own, taking into consideration all the data, all the factors, all the dangers and threats to its national interests,” Transport Minister Erato Kozakou Marcoullis told reporters.
The minister stressed that Cyprus had time and time again supported the rights of the Palestinian people and the relation between the two peoples was “very close and brotherly.” She added that relations with Israel were also good in all areas, financial, political and others.
Regarding the dangers Cyprus currently faces, Marcoullis referred to efforts to advance the direct trade regulation with the occupied areas and “the continuous effort â€¦ for the daily (sea) link between Haifa and Famagusta.”
Triantafyllides who heads the Cyprus initiative, said he was only concerned with the group reaching Gaza and delivering the pharmaceutical and other material on board.
“We want to give the message to the international community that we are in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle; that Israel cannot continue this inhumane treatment of women, children and the elderly and the international community remaining indifferent,” Triantafyllides said.
The Gaza flotilla, which is off the east coast of Cyprus, is poised to reach Gaza over the weekend. Israel has urged convoy to turn back, saying its navy was prepared to intercept it.
Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas — an Islamist resistance movement came to power in the impoverished Palestinian territory.
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