A Finnish-flagged ship attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip hopes to reach Gaza’s coastal waters by Saturday afternoon, a spokesman for the organisers in Sweden, Mikael Lofgren, says.
The 53-metre-long, three-masted, Estelle is carrying 20 activists on board, including five parliamentarians from Sweden, Norway, Spain and Greece.
According to the organisers, the ship is carrying two olive trees, 41 tonnes of cement, 300 footballs, orthopedic and medical equipment, children’s books, musical instruments, theatre equipment and a radio.
The Estelle set sail in June and has called in at several European ports, trying to garner support and publicity.
Israel imposed its blockade on the Gaza Strip in June 2006, when militants snatched an Israeli soldier during a cross-border raid. The siege was tightened a year later, when the militant Islamist Hamas, which advocates violent resistance to Israel, seized full control of the enclave.
In May 2010 Israeli naval commandos intercepted a nine-ship flotilla heading for the Gaza Strip.
Eight of the vessels were boarded peacefully, but violence broke out on the ninth ship, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, and eight Turkish pro-Palestinian activists and an American of Turkish descent were killed by Israeli forces.
A UN report published some months after the event found that the commandos had used “excessive and unreasonable” force in taking over the ship, but also faced “organised and violent resistance from a group of passengers.”
The report also declared the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip legal.
Following international criticism of the interception of the nine-ship flotilla in May 2010, Israel significantly relaxed its sanctions on the types of goods being allowed into the Strip.
But it still insists on checking shipments and has slapped an embargo on anything which can be used to manufacture weapons.
(news.smh.com.au / 19.10.2012)