Activists committed to Palestinian rights sail toward the Gaza Strip
REPORTING FROM RAMALLAH, WEST BANK -– Two boats, one Canadian and the other Irish, quietly left Turkish shores Wednesday sailing toward the Gaza Strip in yet another effort to break the five-year-long Israeli blockade imposed on the coastal enclave, according to organizers of the new flotilla.
The Canadian Tahrir (Liberation) and the Irish Saoirse (Freedom), carrying 27 people of different nationalities, have sailed from Fethiye in Turkey on their way to Gaza, said a press release by “Freedom Waves to Gaza.” They are expected to arrive in Gaza on Friday afternoon.
Israel forcefully stopped the last Turkish-led flotilla that attempted to reach Gaza in May 2010, killing nine of its Turkish members. A U.N. investigation commission on the Freedom Flotilla incident has ruled that Israel’s blockade on Gaza was legal.
Israeli reports quoted officials as saying that the new boats will also not be allowed to reach Gaza.
According to the organizers, the message they carry “is one of unity, defiance, and hope.” They said the boats were part of an “international mission to challenge Israel’s unrelenting stranglehold on Gaza via the sea.”
The organizers chose not to publicize the planned sail of the ships in advance “given Israel’s efforts to block and sabotage Freedom Flotilla II last July.” The Greek government had refused to allow several ships planning to sail to Gaza to leave its shores last July and one boat, the Irish Saoirse, was sabotaged to prevent its sailing.
This is the 11th attempt to break the Gaza blockade via the sea, with five missions arriving safely in Gaza between August and December 2008 and the others intercepted by Israel.
The boats are carrying a symbolic cargo of medicines along with a diverse group of passengers, “all committed to nonviolent defense of the flotilla and Palestinian human rights,” said the organizers.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian activist from Bethlehem, said he was invited by the Canadian steering committee to join the ships. However, the Turkish harbor authority allowed only 11 from the 36 slated to sail with the boats to board them.
“We are very disappointed that 25 of us were left behind,” he said.
Qumsiyeh did not give up. He said that he was still trying to catch up with the boats in high seas hoping to board them and continue with them to Gaza.
-- Maher Abukhater