Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gaza flotilla to embark Tuesday, organizers say

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

Aid ships leaving as part of an international flotilla to Gaza are set to embark from Mediterranean ports on Tuesday, according to organizers.

This apparently conflicts with an announcement last week that ships would be leaving from Southern European ports on Saturday.

“For reasons easily understood, we have to protect the flotilla as much as possible,” Dmitris Plionis, a flotilla organizer from ‘Ship to Gaza: Greece’ told the Hürriyet Daily News on Friday.

Plionis declined to give a departure date or location for ships leaving for Gaza, but said that about 10 ships would be participating in the flotilla, along with two cargo ships. It has been reported that at least one ship in the flotilla will depart from Athens, while the Daily News has learned that two Swiss ships, one passenger and one cargo ship, will be leaving from Italian ports. Ships bound for Gaza would leave on Saturday from Southern European ports and convene in the waters off Cyprus, according to the İHH, a Turkish nongovernmental organization that sent the Mavi Marmara as part of the flotilla in last year’s attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.

Anouar Gharbi, president of the Swiss “Droit Pour Tous” (Rights for All) organization, confirmed to the Daily News that flotilla ships would be convening off the coast of Cyprus. However, he said the ships would embark on Tuesday, rather than Saturday, as the İHH had previously announced. Gharbi declined to give further details on the flotilla’s plans.

Organizers have said they are determined to deliver aid to Gaza this year.

“This is our goal, to reach Gaza,” Gharbi told the Daily News. “If we do not reach Gaza this time, we will reach it another time.”

Ships in last year’s flotilla were forcibly redirected by Israeli forces to Israeli ports. On May 31, 2010, Israel forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, killing eight Turks and one Turkish-American.

Israel, along with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. officials, have urged flotilla organizers not to go ahead with their plans, instead calling on aid groups to use official Israeli channels to transport aid to Gaza. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday said she opposed the planned flotilla.

“We do not believe the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza,” Clinton was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. “We think it’s not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke actions by entering Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves.”

Flotilla organizers say they pose no threat to Israel, and those who will be travelling on the flotilla have all received non-violent resistance training. Organizers, along with other human rights activists, object that Israeli checkpoints do not allow in enough aid, and contend that Israel does not have a right to impose a naval blockade on Gaza.

“The decision we have taken is that we are going to Gaza. It is not our objective to go to [Israeli ports in] Haifa or Ashdod. If they [Israeli forces] redirect us, it is not something we wish,” Pionis said.

The İHH last week announced that the Mavi Marmara would not participate in this year’s flotilla due to “technical problems.”

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