Al Jazeera & Yaron Druckman / YNet News – 2011-07-02 00:32:22
US Gaza-bound Boat Returning to Greek Port
PERAMA, Greece (July 1, 2011) — A boat carrying dozens of US activists seeking to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip has been towed back to port by a Greek coast guard after setting sail from a port in Greece. The boat, dubbed The Audacity of Hope, is one of nine vessels carrying several hundred activists who say they want to deliver aid to the Palestinian territory. The boat left the port of Perama on Friday.
Joseph Dana, a journalist for The Nation magazine on board the boat, told Al Jazeera that the ship left the port of Perama and sailed for an hour after which it was intercepted by a Greek coast guard ship that demanded it return to the port.
“We were surrounded by commandos pointing live weapons at the ship,” he said. “Now we are following one major coast guard vessel and we are [being] tracked by two other zodiac vessels. The commandos are still on board, but they are not pointing weapons anymore.”
The boat is returning back to a port, but the ship is returning to a different port for fear of sabotage attempts, Dana said. The boat has not been free of sabotage attempts. On June 24, an anonymous complaint was filed against the ship’s “seaworthiness.” The Israel Law Centre (Shurat HaDin), took responsibility for the complaint in the Israeli press.
The Greek embassy in Tel Aviv put out a statement confirming that the Greek coast guard has enforced a decision by the Civil Defense to prevent all flotilla vessels from leaving Greek ports. Greece’s Civil Protection Ministry said coast guard authorities had been ordered to take “all appropriate measures” to implement the ban.
It also said the “broader maritime area of the eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating” in the flotilla.
“What I am witnessing right now at this moment is Israeli diplomatic pressure on the Greek government to ensure that these boats do not leave any port inside Greece,” Dana said.
Meanwhile, activists from the Dutch-Italian ship on the Greek island of Corfu were also briefed by the flotilla organisers on Greece’s decision to ban all boats from leaving. Khaled Tuhraani, one of the leaders on the Italian-Dutch ship Stefano Chiarim, said that the activist should come up with “Plan B”.
“Every group on board should consult each other about what they want to do next. We’ll have another meeting tonight at ten o’clock to discuss all our options,” Tuhraani said.
Some of the activists were clearly disappointed and angry, and suggested staging a protest against the Greek government in Athens. Feeds from Twitter, the microblogging site, said that the Canadian boat dubbed Tahrir has been blocked from leaving by Greek authorities.
Israel has said it will thwart any effort to breach the blockade. Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said in a speech to graduating army cadets on Thursday: “I would like to praise the many leaders throughout the world who worked against the ‘provocation flotilla,’ led by US and European leaders, [the] UN secretary general and my friend the Greek prime minister.”
Mark Regev, a spokesperson for Netanyahu, asked about activists’ allegations that Israel was behind the apparent sabotage attempts, was quoted in the New York Times on Friday saying: “These activists are not renowned for being an objective source of information. These people have a tendency to blame Israel, to see Israel’s hand behind every calamity.”
An Israeli raid on a similar flotilla last year left nine activists on a Turkish ship dead.
On Thursday, activists on board an Irish ship, the MV Saoirse, at the Turkish coastal town of Gocek, said it had to abandon plans to set sail because of what it called Israeli “sabotage”. Earlier this week, activists said Israeli agents damaged the propeller of a Swedish ship in the Greek port of Piraeus.
Gaza-bound Boat: Greek Commandos Forced Us Back
Yaron Druckman / YNet News
(July 1, 2011) — Heavily armed Greek forces with their firearms drawn forced a Gaza-bound ship to turn around and return to Greece, where the vessel is now being held in a military base, activists on board the Audacity of Hope said Friday evening.
“We were forced to go back to a Greek port surrounded with bars and barbwire,” a Twitter message from the Gaza-bound vessel said. “We were in a holding pattern for probably three hours when the commandos arrived with drawn weapons.”
Hagit Borer, an Israeli-American citizen on the ship, told Ynet: “They are not letting us out. They took us back to a military dockyard and let the journalists disembark. I don’t know what they’ll be doing with us.”
Describing the takeover of the vessel, Borer said: “They arrived with machine guns. It was quite scary. They seemed ready for a fight. The commandos looked threatening, they wore helmets and their faces were covered.”
The ship, which is carrying some 50 American and Israeli activists, journalists and crewmembers, left its Greek port without authorization earlier Friday, only to be intercepted Coast Guard some 25 minutes later.
Later Friday, Hamas condemned Greece over its actions. The interception of the boat was “inhumane” and contradicted international laws, a statement by Hamas’ leadership in Damascus said.
‘Greeks Doing Israel’s Dirty Work’
Greek forces were apparently attempting to convince the vessel to turn around, before forcing its crew to head back to Greece. Coast Guard “commandos” were pointing their weapons at the vessel during the ordeal, activists said. “The boat is moving back to port, flaked by two zodiacs and one Greek Coast Guard ship full of commandos,” another Twitter message said. “So sad that the Greeks are doing the dirty work of Israel by not letting us sail.”
“I never knew the Mediterranean was owned by Israel,” another activist said.
Spirits on the vessel were high earlier, with one activist saying: With great joy we left Parama pier. Under bright blue skyâ€¦” Activists kept their spirits up even as their boat was stopped by Greek forces, with one message reading: “As commandos point their weapons, passengers are singing ‘we shall overcome’ in the middle of the Athens Sea.”
The Greek embassy in Israel released the following announcement on behalf of Greece’s Ministry of Citizen Protection earlier Friday.
“Pursuant to a decision by the Minister of Citizen Protection Mr. C. Papoutsis, the departure of ships with Greek and foreign flags from Greek ports to the maritime area of Gaza has been prohibited today.”
The Greek officials Ynet spoke with Friday evening were unable to confirm or deny that the Gaza-bound vessel was returned to port by armed forces.
AFP contributed to the story
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