Pro-Palestinian activists sail for Gaza in defiance of Israeli blockade

09:09, May 31, 2010      

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More than 700 pro-Palestinian activists sailed for the Gaza Strip from international waters south of Cyprus on Sunday afternoon, with some 10,000 tons of aid for the Palestinian enclave under Israeli blockade.

The "Freedom Flotilla," including six passenger and cargo vessels, had started to converge in international waters since Friday after Cyprus authorities prevented any of the ships using the island as a springboard for Gaza.

It was apparently a result of pressure from Israel, said organizers of the Free Gaza Movement, which coordinated the aid flotilla.

A group of parliamentarians from European countries were also refused to leave a Greek-Cypriot port to join the flotilla. Some of them later turned to the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot north and joined the flotilla after a two-day delay.

The authorities in Cyprus said they made such a decision on their own and they had to protect the island states's "vital interests."

The Israeli authorities have labelled the aid operation as "a publicity stunt" and warned its navy will prevent the flotilla from entering the Gaza port by force and arrest the people on board before deporting them.

Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish humanitarian organization IHH, who is in charge of the "mother ship" Mavi Marmara, told media through a live video streaming system that they are sailing to Gaza not for any political agenda or out of contempt for the Israeli authorities, but on a pure humanitarian mission to help end the tragedy in Gaza.

There are some 650 people aboard the Mavi Marmara, which departed from Turkey. Some 60 journalists, most of them from Muslim countries, are reporting the voyage and possible showdown with Israel from the ship. They are expected to arrive at the international waters near Gaza on Monday morning.

According to Yildirim, the youngest passenger is a 13-month-old child. There are also people in their 80s on board as well.

"If Israel wants to run the risk of attacking these ships, they may do so. In case of an attack, we are going to carry out nonviolent resistance. We do not even have a jackknife here, but we will not let Israeli soldiers on board this ship," he said.

The U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement has successfully challenged the Israeli blockade five times until 2008, landing international aid ships in the Gaza port. But the on-going mission will be the largest one in scale.

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade after the Palestinian Islamic Hamas movement gained political power there and subsequently ousted Fatah from the strip in 2007.

Israel faces the quandary of whether to block the path of the six vessels and face the international media spotlight or permit their passage to Gaza and therefore admit the ongoing blockade is effectively null and void.

That is why some analysts believe the peace campaign is posing a possible public relations test to the Jewish state.

Source: Xinhua
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