MIDDLE EAST: Flotilla raid sparks calls in Iran and Lebanon to break Israel's Gaza siege
All aboard for Gaza!
Spurred by the momentum of last week's deadly flotilla disaster, groups from Lebanon and Iran have announced plans to send at least three more ships to the besieged strip in the coming weeks.
Many worry another violent face-off could have serious repercussions for the region as a spokesman for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards announced that the elite military force was prepared to send military escorts to accompany two Red Crescent ships carrying supplies and emergency services personnel to Gaza.
“Enemies should be met head-on through a spontaneous international movement, and we should foil their evil plots,” Revolutionary Guard spokesman Ali Shirazi was quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency on Sunday.
“The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy is ready to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenseless and oppressed people of Gaza with all its strength,” he added.
Few believe Iran would be so reckless as to send Revolutionary Guard boats off the coast of Israel.
But Iran, a major supporter of the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, has been watching as Turkey takes center stage in the fallout from Israel's botched raid on a six-vessel aid flotilla that was attempting to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip.
Iran isn't the only one spurred by the momentum of the international uproar. Two organizations in Lebanon, the Free Palestine Movement and Reporters Without Bounds, announced plans to send a ship carrying 50 journalists and 25 foreign activists by the end of this week.
"If what the Israelis say is true and the situation in Gaza is good, then they have to let us in," Thaer Ghandour, a spokesman for Reporters Without Bounds, told Babylon & Beyond. "If they don't, that means they are hiding something, and they don't want the world to see."
Without elaborating, Ghandour said the group was "prepared" for the possibility of violence.
Ghandour said, in addition to Arab and international press, the ship would be carrying goods including medical supplies.
On Saturday, Israeli forces intercepted another aid ship headed to Gaza, the Rachel Corrie, an Irish vessel named after an American activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to stop it from destroying a Palestinian house.
Israel has resisted pressure from the United Nations and the international community to lift the blockade, citing concerns over weapons-smuggling to Hamas, which controls the strip.
But Gaza supporters say the list of banned items is arbitrary and amounts to collective punishment of the civilian population.
– Meris Lutz in Beirut
Photo: Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire and Free Gaza activists aboard the Rachel Corrie. Credit: FreeGaza.org