Gaza aid flotilla activists determined to set sail
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Despite having been detained for a week inside Greek territorial waters, international activists manning a Gaza-bound aid flotilla vow that nothing will stand in the way of their mission.
Despite having been detained for a week inside Greek territorial waters, international activists manning a Gaza-bound aid flotilla vow that nothing will stop their mission.
Greek coastguards on Monday halted a Canadian vessel, the Tahrir, soon after it set sail from Crete with some 40 people on board in defiance of a Greek ban, activists said.
The so-called Freedom Flotilla II – comprised of 10 ships, of which nine remain moored in Greece and one in Turkey – is gearing up to breach an Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinians living there. Israel imposed the blockade in 2007, claiming it was necessary to keep arms and ammunition from making their way to the militant group Hamas, which rules the enclave.
The flotilla had hoped to set sail from the port of Piraeus near Athens on Monday, despite a June 27 ban on leaving Greek waters.
After almost a week of near silence on the matter, the authorities in Athens justified the move on Sunday by citing security concerns and offered to convey the humanitarian aid aboard Greek ships through “existing channels”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
“The Israelis obviously responded favourably to the Greek initiative,” said FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from Greece aboard the Louise Michel, one of two French vessels taking part in the flotilla. “The suggestion was equally hailed by Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s secretary general,” he noted.
Breaking the blockade
The Greek offer, however, was unacceptable to Claude Léostic, vice president of the France-Palestine Solidarity Association (AFPS). “What concerns us is breaking the blockade and delivering our humanitarian aid directly to the Gazans,” he told FRANCE 24 from aboard the Louise Michel. “Any other proposal from either Israel or Greece is unacceptable.”
Some activists accuse the Greek government of ceding to Israeli pressure. Léostic says Athens is using “administrative pretexts” to halt the vessels, including claims that one of the French vessels is not properly registered and that another lacks a navigation certificate. But Léostic says these assertions are completely baseless. “The truth is that the government is obeying instructions from Israel,” he said.
Moreover, he accuses the Greek authorities of contravening EU legal provisions. “With these actions, the authorities are acting contrary to the Treaty of Rome’s provisions on the free passage of EU citizens within the Schengen area,” he said. “They cannot detain us.”
‘We will not rest’
Léostic says that defying the authorities is the only solution to the impasse. “Whatever the obstacles, we will try to leave again,” he said, although he’s well aware of the possibility of failure. On Friday, a similar mission undertaken by the US boat Audacity of Hope was halted less than an hour after its departure from a Greek port and its captain, 69-year-old John Klusmire, was arrested.
It remains to be seen how the story unfolds. “For now, the morale of the activists remains rather good,” FRANCE 24’s Fenwick says. For his part, Léostic prefers not to say too much, lest he endanger the mission. “Several boats have left, but we cannot reveal any more,” he said.
“All I can tell you is that we will not rest here with our arms crossed.”
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