Gaza flotilla ship held by Greek officials

One of the ships in a Gaza-bound flotilla was stopped Friday by Greek authorities, who warned that other ships headed to the Palestinian territory would also be blocked.

“The Audacity of Hope” — a U.S. vessel carrying 36 American passengers and four crew members — was stopped by the Greek Coast Guard roughly 20 minutes outside the port of Perama, according to CNN reporter Phil Black, who is on the ship.

Dimitris Delavekouras, a spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry, confirmed that the vessel had been detained. Athens warned that all ships bound for Gaza will be prohibited from leaving Greek ports.

The ten-ship flotilla, which has faced a series of bureaucratic and technical delays, is a commemoration of the one-year anniversary of a similar flotilla that resulted in a clash in international waters with Israeli navy commandos that killed nine people, including an American.

The flotilla is intended to challenge Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza strip.

The decision to stop “The Audacity of Hope” is the “latest example of another government being strong-armed by Israel into colluding in its illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip,” said Jane Hirschmann, one of the American flotilla organizers.

“When governments fail to act, as they have done for so long when it comes to the human rights and freedom of the Palestinians, people of conscience must act in their stead,” she said.

Flotilla organizers have called Gaza an “open-air prison” that is “under seige.”

Israeli defense officials released a statement asserting that “it is clear that the goal of the flotilla organizers is provocation: to challenge Israel’s right of self-defense against a terrorist group that has caused close to a million Israeli civilians to live under the constant threat of attack for the better part of a decade.”

On Thursday, organizers claimed another flotilla vessel — the Irish ship Saoirse — was sabotaged while anchored in Turkey’s territorial waters.

The propeller of the Saoirse was damaged by what coordinator Fintan Lane said was plastic explosives.

“We believe that plastic explosives were used to blow and weaken the propel shaft, and this would have sunk the ship in open sea,” said Lane.

Lane said the damage was similar to what happened to another flotilla boat docked in Piraeus, outside of Athens.

He called on the Greek and Turkish authorities to investigate what he called an act of terror.

CNN could not independently verify the claim.

While Lane on Thursday did not outright blame Israel for the alleged sabotage, there have been a number of accusations by organizers about the Israeli government’s effort to block the flotilla.

A spokesman for Israel’s foreign minister said he was “not going to get inside accusations. They are vague. There is nothing behind them.”

“We have not concealed our case, our arguments, our diplomatic efforts. It’s all out in the open.”

On Tuesday, the Israeli government claimed flotilla participants had threatened to kill Israeli military personnel should their boats be boarded. They allege sacks of sulphuric acid were being stockpiled on boats to be used in attacks on Israeli commandos.

Flotilla organizer Medea Benjamin dismissed the allegations as ludicrous, saying: “They see this nonviolent, rag-tag group of ships as such a threat they’re using their entire propaganda apparatus, and their diplomatic and economic clout to try to stop 300 peace activists. It’s pathetic.”

In May 2010, the Mavi Marmara — owned by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH — and five other ships were on their way to Gaza with humanitarian aid and about 700 activists from various countries when the Israeli soldiers boarded it.

In clashes with Israeli navy commandos the nine people were killed.

An independent Israeli commission, led by retired judge Yaakov Turkel, later found that the Israeli commandos “acted professionally and in a measured manner in the face of unanticipated violence” when they seized the Gaza-bound aid ship.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters last Friday that she didn’t think the flotilla plan for this year “is useful or productive or helpful to the people of Gaza.”

“We have certainly encouraged that American citizens not participate in the flotilla,” she said, “and we are urging that all precautions be taken to avoid any kind of confrontation.”

Clinton’s comments followed an even harsher statement by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, in which she criticized what she called “irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers.”

(edition.cnn.com / 01.07.2011)

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