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Israel intercepts Gaza-bound aid flotilla

Greek coastguards stand in front of Canadian boat “Tahrir” after forcing the Gaza-bound ship to return to the port of Agios Nikolaos, July 4, 2011.
Israeli naval vessels have intercepted a Gaza-bound international aid flotilla seeking to break the crippling blockade of the Palestinian territory.

According to a Press TV correspondent on-board one of the ships, the two vessels were shadowed by Israeli warplanes and naval vessels in international waters on Friday as they approached the besieged Gaza Strip.

Eight Israeli warships made radio contact with the ships, calling on them to change course towards Egypt or to turn around.

Israeli marines boarded the vessels about 50 nautical miles from Gaza after pro-Palestinian activists refused to turn back. There were no reports of violence.

Organizers had earlier said that ”those on board (the two aid vessels) have been instructed not to put up any resistance to the Israeli navy when it tries to intercept them”.

According to the Israeli military, the aid boats were towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, north-east of Gaza.

The mini aid flotilla, called Freedom Waves to Gaza, left the Turkish port city of Fethiye on Wednesday and was scheduled to reach the Gaza Strip on Friday.

The Canadian ship, Tahrir (Freedom), and the Irish ship, Saoirse (Freedom) are carrying 27 activists, including journalists and crewmembers, along with 30,000 dollars worth of medicine.

Activists on the Freedom Waves to Gaza are from Canada, Ireland, Egypt, US, and Australia. They say their international humanitarian mission is “to challenge Israel’s ongoing criminal blockade of the territory.”

Israeli has intercepted Gaze-bound aid flotillas before. On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters, killing nine Turkish activists and injuring dozens of others.

Ankara-Tel Aviv relations soured following the attack. Israel refuses to apologize for the attack on the Turkish-flagged ship.

Turkey says relations between the two sides can only be restored if Tel Aviv apologizes for the attack, compensates the families of those killed and the injured, and lifts its deadly years-long blockade on the Gaza Strip.

(www.presstv.ir / 04.11.2011)

US warns on new Gaza-bound activist flotilla

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The United States warned on Thursday that a new effort to send a flotilla to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was dangerous and urged US citizens not to take part.

Activists set sail from Turkey on Wednesday aboard two yachts carrying medical supplies. The Israeli military said it would not permit them to breach its blockade.

In May 2010, nine Turkish activists, including one with dual US-Turkish nationality, were killed in an Israeli raid on a similar convoy that nearly ruptured ties between Turkey and Israel, both critical US allies in the region.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington had been in touch with the Turkish government on Thursday about the flotilla, and had also spoken to Israeli officials.

“My sense of this was that, given the way this came together there was some element of surprise for both the Turkish government and our own government,” Nuland said.

She said the United States had sought clarification on news reports that Turkish warships might be accompanying the flotilla and were told “quite emphatically” by Turkey that this was not the case.

“We’ve been clear to them that we think that would be an extremely bad idea and they’ve now reassured us that that is not what they are doing in this case,” she said.

Nuland repeated US warnings about earlier flotilla plans, saying that US citizens who take part in efforts to deliver material support or other resources to Hamas could face civil and criminal penalties. Hamas has been officially designated as by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.

Mediterranean tensions 

The latest challenge to Israel’s embargo of Gaza, in force since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007 from Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces, comes during a period of tension in the eastern Mediterranean.

The United States has backed the blockade, which Israel regards as necessary to prevent weapons from being smuggled to gunmen in the enclave.

The Palestinians maintain that the blockade is illegal collective punishment.

Turkey was angered by Israel’s refusal to apologize for the May 2010 raid and two months ago expelled the Israeli ambassador. Turkey has also increased its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, and expressed disappointment over the conclusions of United Nations inquiry into the incident.

The 27 activists on board the Canadian and Irish vessels came from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United States, and included Palestinians and at least one Israeli Arab citizen, according to organizers. Turkey has stressed that the vessels were not Turkish-flagged, had no Turkish passengers and the captains were not Turkish.

Israel has offered to unload any aid supplies and deliver them to Gaza. Israel permits limited amounts of humanitarian aid, food and other supplies to enter Gaza for its 1.5 million people, many of them impoverished refugees, via land crossings it closely monitors.

Gaza also has a border with Egypt, but it is primarily used for pedestrian traffic.

(www.maannews.net / 03.11.2011)

Two boats are a day and a half from Gaza, and plan to arrive at daylight

Democracy Now! is covering the latest Gaza flotilla, with exclusive video coverage from Jihan Hafiz, who is aboard the Canadian boat, the Tahrir. And here is a portion of Amy Goodman’s conversation with Hafiz, one of five journalists on the boat.

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, we can hear you fine. Can you tell us the latest report from where you are in international waters? You’re on the Tahrir, the Canadian boat. The other boat that is alongside of you, the Irish boat—have you made contact yet? And what are your plans, the group’s plans, on the two boats at this point?

JIHAN HAFIZ: Yes, for the first time today, actually since this trip was planned, the delegations from the Canadian boat were able to make physical contact with the Irish boat. As we’ve been sailing, it’s been—the seas—the waters have been very rough here. So they haven’t been able to board the boat, and we haven’t been able to board their vessel. However, the plan is to continue the voyage, to continue this voyage to Gaza, regardless of the threats coming from the Israeli government. And in fact, both teams met today to hold meetings with the journalists and delegates on board to discuss a strategy for when the Israelis do intercept the boat, if they intercept the boat, and what will take place from there.

We’re about 120—excuse me, 150 to 170 kilometers off the coast of Gaza. It will take us about another day and a half to get there.

As I mentioned in the report, the activists and the organizers of both flotillas do not want to reach Gaza’s borders, at least the territorial region, until daylight. They do not want to have a similar situation to what happened to the Mavi Marmara. That boat was attacked in the evening. And they want to avoid any kind of misperception about violence, if violence is committed. As mentioned in the report, as well, there’s also a commitment to nonviolent resistance. There was training for that today on the boats to make sure that if we do come in contact with the Israelis, there will be no confrontation from those on either boats. Aside from that, the spirits have been very high.

AMY GOODMAN: Jihan, is there a boat that is following you?

JIHAN HAFIZ: At the moment, there is not. There was—last night, up until 4:00 in the morning, on our side, there was an unidentified boat that was following us. The only other boat that followed us out of international waters was the Turkish coast guard. So, from the boat, we all presumed it was the Turkish coast guard, but there’s no longer anyone following us. It’s only the Irish boat and the Canadian in open waters.

AMY GOODMAN: Jihan, we—you took us on a tour of the boat you are on, the Tahrir, and we met some of the activists on board—Canadian, Australian, there’s a U.S. citizen on board, as well. Who’s on the Irish boat?

JIHAN HAFIZ: These are solely Irish delegates. Some of them are former members of parliament. We haven’t been able to sit down and speak with them, but we do know that there are three to five on board who are former members of parliament. Also, they’re a group that has been making—that has continuously made efforts, through different initiatives, to reach Gaza. And we haven’t been able to speak with them, but they have been to Gaza a number of times before, some of the delegates. And they planned this on their own, in close coordination with the steering committee here. However, we have not been in touch with them at all. They’ve sort of been on their own in this journey, mainly because of the waters, but also because of the secrecy of the planning of this. So they’re mainly—it’s mainly an Irish delegation.

I also want to mention that the Canadian boat was restricted to 12 people. Of the 36 who were meant to come along on the Tahrir, the Canadian boat, only 12 were allowed on, whereas the Irish boat, they only allowed them to have 12 on, but they snuck some people on their boat. And so, the entire Irish delegation that came to Turkey to take this—to make this voyage to Gaza is present, and they’re heading in that direction now. We have—supporters from this boat are still in Turkey. Some returned home, and they’re working on—they’re working on logistical work, as well as media work, to communicate with people on the boat. The internet hasn’t been—hasn’t been precise at times. It goes out every now and then. But there is a lot of international support from the organizations represented on this boat, as well as the Irish one, including a number of committees around the world that are supporting what these Freedom Waves to Gaza are: essentially, an extension of the Free Gaza movement, which is a movement to break the siege by any means, at any costs.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there fear on board your boat, the Tahrir, the Canadian boat that you’re covering? There are 12 people on board the boat, is that right? The captain, six activists and five journalists?

JIHAN HAFIZ: Yes. There is concern. I wouldn’t say “fear.” I think people here are defiant, in that they believe in what they’re doing, and they believe that what they’re doing is peaceful and that they will—even if there is any kind of—if the Israelis do board the boat or intercept the boat, there will not be any resistance, any violent confrontation from any of the activists here. So the concern is mainly losing—losing a lot of their equipment.

(mondoweiss.net / 03.11.2011)

Israeli Warships Move Against Surprise Gaza Aid Flotilla

Israeli warships are on the move tonight, preparing to attack a pair of aid vessels from Ireland and Canada which are attempting to deliver medical supplies to the Gaza Strip, insisting they will “take whatever measures will be necessary” to prevent the ships from reaching Gaza.

Israeli officials were quick to condemn the move as a “provocation” and claimed that an attempt to deliver aid amounted to a “deplorable propaganda exercise.” The ships are currently in international waters.

The ships left from the Turkish port of Fethiye today, and were supposed to sail to Rhodes, according to Turkish officials. Instead the ships are heading to Gaza, with 19 activists and five journalists between them.

The sail was something of a surprise and activists from the two ships said they deliberately kept a low profile until reaching international waters, fearing that they would be detained in port or sabotaged like previous ships.

 

(news.antiwar.com / 03.11.2011)

Israel to ‘prevent’ aid ships reaching Gaza

Israeli navy says it will stop two boats carrying pro-Palestinian activists from reaching blockaded territory.

Israel has announced that its navy will attempt to stop two boats carrying pro-Palestinian activists bound for the Gaza Strip, in the latest attempt by activists to break the four-year Israeli blockade against the territory.

The Israeli military spokesman’s office said the country’s navy was “prepared to contact” the vessels and had “completed the necessary preparations in order to prevent them from reaching the Gaza Strip”.

The Canadian boat Tahrir and the Irish boat MV Saoirse left the port of Fethiye in southwest Turkey on Wednesday after Turkish authorities gave them permission to sail to the Greek island of Rhodes.

Click for map of ships and passenger details

 

Al Jazeera’s Casey Kauffman, on board one of the ships, said that in total it would be a 50-hour journey, and they were currently one-fifth of the way there.

“Everyone on the boat wants to get to Gaza,” he said, adding that while the activists are prepared for the possibility of an Israeli interception, the initiative will not be wasted.

“It will still bring attention to the situation in Gaza, and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military official, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only “we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers.”

Describing their journey as a “provocation”, she said Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza.

Sailing under the flag of the Comoros Islands, the Tahrir is carrying six activists, a captain and five journalists.

The Saoirse – sailing under the US flag – has 12 Irish nationals on board, none of whom are journalists.

‘Support from Turkish society’

David Heap, a member of the steering committee on board the Tahrir, told Al Jazeera that the activists chose to leave from Fethiye because of the strained relations between Turkey and Israel.

“The Turkish government has been creating more distance from Israel diplomatically and we know there is support from Turkish society for what we are doing.

“Our judgment was that the Turkish state would not interfere with us if we didn’t make too much of a public issue of our plan to depart from there,” Heap told Al Jazeera.

Freedom Waves
A Canadian boat to Gaza

History of Israeli blockade on Gaza

In Quotes: Shalit and the siege

Map: ‘Freedom Waves’

 

It will take at least a couple of days before the boats reach the Palestinian waters of the Gaza Strip, where they expect to be approached by the Israeli navy.

“We have some distance to cover between where we are now and Palestinian territorial waters of Gaza.

“Obviously we are going to avoid going through Israeli territorial waters.

“Our plan is to go directly from international waters into the territorial waters of Gaza – within a couple of days.

The activists say the new attempt the break the siege on the Gaza Strip is part of a campaign they call “freedom waves”, implying that more such efforts will follow.

Both ships were part of previous attempts to break the siege on the Gaza Strip that was stalled when the Greek government refused to let a flotilla leave from its shores in July this year.

The Tahrir, the larger ship of the two, was intercepted by the Greek coast guard with more than 30 pro-Palestinian activists onboard.

Two of them were detained for defying Greece’s ban on setting sail to Gaza. The vessel was stopped about 10 minutes after it left port on the island of Crete.

The Irish boat allegedly suffered damage when it was sabotaged while waiting to join the flotilla from Turkish waters. The ship has since been repaired and kept in dry-dock in Turkey.

(english.aljazeera.net / 03.11.2011)

Embassy slams Gaza bid ‘hypocrites’

Human rights activists on board an Irish ship attempting to break the blockade on Gaza have been labelled hypocrites on a publicity stunt.

Former rugby player Trevor Hogan and several politicians are on the MV Saoirse, which is in international waters about 200 miles from Palestine.

The Canadian ship MV Tahrir also set sail as part of the Freedom Waves humanitarian mission. The vessels are carrying 27 passengers from seven countries who hope to reach Gaza on Friday.

Dr Fintan Lane, of the Irish Ship to Gaza group, said the only obstacle in their way was Israel’s military – which last year killed nine Turkish activists taking part in the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza.

The MV Saoirse was also forced to pull out of a flotilla in June after it was damaged while docked in Turkey, which activists claimed was deliberate sabotage by Israel. “The Palestinians living in Gaza want solidarity – not charity,” Dr Lane said. “Our primary goal is to help free Palestinians from their inhumane isolation in what is in effect an open-air prison.”

But the Israeli Embassy in Dublin warned the vessels will be intercepted before reaching Gaza and accused those on board of being “hypocrites on a provocative publicity stunt”.

“If these people care about human rights in the Arab world, why not take a flotilla to Syria, where over 3,000 people have been killed by the regime?” said a spokesman. “If they care about Palestinians, why not speak out against the Hamas regime in Gaza, which represses all dissent and the rights of women and homosexuals?”

Israel maintains it imposed the naval blockade to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas militants and that aid and consumer goods are reaching the area through Israel and Egypt.

Last year, nine people were killed when Israeli commandos stormed the MV Marmara, a Turkish aid ship trying to break the naval blockade. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

A UN panel report later blamed Israel, Turkey, and organisers of a Gaza-bound flotilla for the deadly raid. It found the blockade of Gaza was legal but it called the raid on the flotilla “excessive and unreasonable” and the killing of eight Turkish activists and a Turkish-American “unacceptable”

(www.independent.ie / 03.11.2011)

From Tahrir to Gaza: The faces of ‘Freedom Waves’

Michael Coleman, an Australian activist on board the boat Tahrir, a day before it left Turkey en route to Gaza.

FETHIYE, Turkey – “It doesn’t matter what we do for Gaza this month or this year. What matters is how many years we stay with Gaza,” said David Heap, a member of the steering committee of “Tahrir,” a Canadian ship currently headed for the Gaza Strip in a show of solidarity with the besieged Palestinian territory.

His comments came a day before the boat left the Turkish port of Fethiye carrying some 12 people in the most recent attempt to break the siege after Greek authorities prevented a flotilla attempting to depart from that country in July.

The boat’s name easily resonates with Egyptians, who occupied the Cairo square of the same name for 18 days last winter demanding freedom from a three-decade-long oppressive regime. “When the media asks me about the name ‘Tahrir,’ I tell them Tahrir isn’t an Egyptian name or an Arabic name,” Heap said. “Tahrir means liberation and it’s a universal name.”

This idea of the universality of freedom unites the diverse delegations setting sail on the flotilla to break the Israeli siege of Gaza.

Nicole McGrath and Robert Lovelace are a perfect example. Lovelace is a Canadian national who is descended from the native population of Canada, before Europeans arrived. This native population is now often described as economically and politically marginalized. Due to bureaucratic complications in Turkey Lovelace and McGrath were not allowed to be on board the boat, but they still offered their support.

“I am interested in helping the people of Gaza, because at home, many policies are enacted against the Indians [native population] of Canada that are similar [to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians]. The Indians of Canada have experience with settlements, for example. They lost their land, their right to their resources and the government works hard to control them to benefit from their resources,” said Lovelace, a university professor.

“I see a clear intersection with Gaza, and you can’t free yourself and allow others to continue to suffer. Everyone has to be liberated together.”

His wife, McGrath, also sees different struggles for freedom as a united human quest. “All of those struggles are similar in conscience. It’s one system [of oppression]. God knows how long it would take it to fall and it won’t be easy. But it’s in people realizing that it is not working that there is hope,” she said.

As McGrath and Lovelace came from Canada to be on a boat bound to Gaza, Michael Coleman came from the other end of the world. The Sydney, Australia-based youth worker had also tried to break the siege back in July with the Canadian boat sailing from Greece. His story goes back to just after the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla incident, when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara ship that had set off from Turkey and killed nine activists in international waters. The incident stirred a wave of global fury against Israel and soured its relations with Turkey, a former ally.

Coleman recalls an activist from the flotilla who came to Australia and gave a speech. “At the end, she asked, ‘Who is going on the next flotilla?’ and we all raised our hands,” Coleman said. After that, he and others began collecting money to buy the boat Tahrir.

The boat sailing today from Turkey is a joint venture between Canadian, Australian, Belgian and Danish activists.

Coleman has gone as far as anyone to challenge the siege. In July, when a flotilla was supposed to leave Greece for Gaza, Coleman found himself challenging what he calls “’the outsourcing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza to European countries” by positioning himself in a small boat in front of the Greek coast guard to get in the way of their efforts to stop the Canadian ship from leaving port.

“We were arrested and sentenced to 30 days in [in jail] Greece. Luckily, that [sentence] was suspended. I am more than happy to do it again. We need a chance to get to Gaza and challenge the Israeli blockade, as opposed to challenging its outsourcing to Europe alone,” Coleman said.

Finding a suitable port of departure has been a challenge for the flotillas. “In 2010, the best country for the flotilla to leave from was Greece, but that wasn’t the case in 2011. The eastern Mediterranean is changing,” said Heap.

“If one is leaving in late 2011 or 2012, there would be more countries to choose from, which is good, because it makes it unpredictable for the Israeli forces,” said Heap.

But this diversity of options in the eastern Mediterranean doesn’t mean yet that the flotilla is ready to leave from an Egyptian port. In July, as the Greeks stopped the flotilla from departing, Al-Masry Al-Youm launched a popular initiative inviting the flotilla to set sail from Egypt.

“We were impressed by the call. Today if I am to bet on a country’s civil society, I would bet on Egypt because of its impressive track record,” said Heap. But he believes that Egypt’s revolutionary struggle is still continuing and it is showcased in Egypt sponsoring the blockade itself by making compromises on its decision to open the Rafah border crossing. While in May 2011 the Rafah border crossing was opened for Palestinians, concerns rose about the restrictive nature of this opening as many were denied passage for various reasons.

Heap, who protested in Tahrir Square in 2009 with a group of international activists against the Egyptian government’s prevention of the Gaza Freedom March to cross into Gaza via Rafah, remains hopeful. He recalls the oppressive security apparatus of the Mubarak regime, and says he is not surprised that Egyptians revolted against it a year later.

“You don’t stop the dependence of a military with decades of billions of dollars in aid from the United States. We see a tug of war between the military and the people. But we are rather optimistic,” Heap said.

(www.almasryalyoum.com / 02.11.2011)

LEAD: Israel Navy preparing to stop two boats heading for Gaza

Tel Aviv/Montreal – The Israeli navy was preparing Wednesday  to intercept two boats heading for Gaza which have declared they will  try to break the Israeli blockade of the strip, months after a  similar attempt failed.

Pro-Palestinian groups announced the action, which they are  calling Freedom Waves to Gaza and have kept secret until now to avoid  Israeli and international action to stop it, in a statement on  Wednesday.

The two boats, carrying 27 foreign activists, were ‘at this  moment’ in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, said the  Free Gaza movement, which had organized past siege-breaking journeys.

One vessel, the Saoirse from Ireland, counted parliamentarians  among its passengers. The other, the Tahrir, carried representatives  from Canada, the U.S., Australia and Palestine, the movement said.

‘While the Tahrir will be delivering much-needed medicines, our  primary aim remains to help free Palestinians from the open-air  prison known as Gaza,’ said on-board organizer David Heap, of  campaign group Canadian Boat to Gaza, in a press release.

An attempt in July to break the Gaza blockade – denounced by  Israel and other countries as a provocation – was foiled when Greece  prevented eight boats, calling themselves the Freedom Flotilla 2,  from sailing from its ports.

‘Our efforts in Greece only fuelled our determination to challenge  the imprisonment of the people of Gaza. We said we would continue to  sail and so we are,’ said the Free Gaza statement.

Some of the activists in the latest attempt were the same as those  who participated in July.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, Lieutenant Colonel Avital  Leibovich, called the action ‘the latest provocation’ in a long line.

She said Israel would stop them from reaching Gaza, but would give  them the opportunity to unload their goods in the southern Israeli  port of Ashdod, if they agreed. The activists have refused such  offers in the past.

‘We have been following those boats for some time. The Israel Navy  is prepared to prevent their arrival,’ she said in a telephone  briefing to journalists.

‘The blockade is there for security reasons. This is why we need  it,’ she said, noting that a UN report published in early September  had declared the blockade legal.

That report also acknowledged that Israeli naval commandos had  faced ‘organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers’  when they intercepted a Turkish ship headed for Gaza in May 2010.

But it said the commandos had used ‘excessive and unreasonable’  force in taking over the ship. Eight Turkish pro-Palestinian  activists and an American of Turkish descent were killed in that  incident, which sparked an Israeli-Turkish diplomatic crisis.

Leibovich also pointed out that in March, Israel had foiled an  attempt to smuggle weapons into Gaza by intercepting the Victoria, a  German-owned, Liberian-flagged ship sailing from Syria via Turkey to  Egypt. The vessel, some 200 nautical miles west off the Israeli  coast, had some 3,000 rockets and shells hidden on board.

‘You either have a blockade or you don’t have a blockade. There is  not something in the middle,’ the spokeswoman said.

‘At this point,’ she said, the boats were ‘still far’, but she  could not give an estimated arrival time as it depended on weather  conditions and speed.

‘Currently they are far form Israel, but they are headed here and  they are headed for Gaza,’ Leibovich added.

The two boats were carrying activists from Canada, Australia, the  US, Greece, Palestine, Poland and Egypt. They announced their action  as soon as they entered international waters, saying they hoped to  reach Gaza’s shores ‘in a couple of days.’

The Canadian Boat to Gaza activists said they planned the journey  in total secrecy to avoid a repeat of the July failure. Organizer  Ehab Lotayef, who was onboard the Tahrir, said they were worried in  part about surveillance by pro-Israeli Canadian authorities.

‘But we have the wind of public opinion at our back and in our  sails, which strengthens our resolve and determination to challenge  the illegal blockade of Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants,’ Lotayef  added.

(www.monstersandcritics.com / 02.11.2011)

Gaza flotilla organizers to Haaretz: Plan kept secret until last minute

Activists from the two-vessel flotilla say did not publicize plans out of fear they would be stopped before leaving port in Turkey.

The “Freedom Waves to Gaza” flotilla organizers kept their latest attempt to set sail to the Gaza Strip under wraps out of concern that they would be stopped again before leaving the port in Turkey.

The activists from the Canadian vessel the “Tahrir,” carrying twelve Canadian, American, Australian and Palestinian passengers, and the Irish vessel the “Saoirse,” carrying 15 Irish passengers, told Haaretz that preparations were kept low profile until the two-vessel flotilla reached international waters.

Activists from the Gaza-bound flotilla holding flags of the participating countries in front of the Greek parliament in Athens yesterday.

The activists are also accompanied by reporters from news outlets including Al-Jazeera and Iranian television.

The Tahrir is carrying letters of support from activists in the U.S. to the people of Gaza, as well as some medical supplies. Some of the participants are new, and some have attempted already to sail to Gaza from Greece in July this year.

The activists arrived in Turkey in the past few days, and the boats sailed on Wednesday afternoon from the Turkish port of Fetniye.

According to Israel Defense Forces estimates, judging by the speed judging by the speed of the ships and the conditions at sea, the ships will arrive in Gaza between Thursday night and early Friday morning.

The activists told Haaretz that Turkish authorities requested they reduce the number of people on board, so not everyone was able to embark. They stressed that no particular organization was behind this new effort to sail to Gaza.

Canadian activist Wendy Goldsmith said that it was organized by “civil society with no particular leadership – pretty much as the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests, people who protest the injustice.”

The flotilla has nothing to do with the rocket fire from Gaza or the recent prisoners swap between Hamas and Israel, added Goldsmith.

“The siege is still there. Israel had many ways to deal with its security problems, and the collective punishment of people living in Gaza is probably the worst – it’s ineffective, immoral and illegal,” she said.

She added that the activists expect an encounter with the Israeli authorities “at some point” and are concerned for their safety.

Ehab Lotayef, the organizer of the Tahrir, said in an announcement published on the website of the Irish boat that “the Palestinians living in Gaza want solidarity – not charity. They have made it clear to the world that their primary demand is for freedom. While humanitarian aid is helpful, Palestinians are still prisoners with no freedom of movement. Israel’s illegal blockade prevents not only imports into Gaza, but exports as well. And the blockade prevents Palestinians from moving freely between Gaza and the West Bank, in violation of fundamental human rights.”

The U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) called on the international community to ensure the safe passage of the ships through international waters into Gaza.

CCR senior staff attorney Maria LaHood said that “CCR applauds the persistence of civil society to break the siege on Gaza, where Palestinians remain imprisoned and isolated, without access to the supplies necessary to sustain and rebuild their lives.”

(www.haaretz.com / 02.11.2011)

Erdogan: Turk warships to escort any Gaza aid vessels

CAIRO (Reuters) — Turkish warships will escort any Turkish aid vessels to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in remarks broadcast on Al Jazeera television Thursday.

Erdogan also said that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean, according to Al Jazeera’s translation of excerpts of the interview.

(www.maannews.net / 08.09.2011)