Athens: Hundreds of activists are preparing
to board aid ships bound for Gaza this week in defiance of an
Israeli blockade and UN warnings and in spite of the violent
end to an operation last year which left nine dead.
About 350 pro-Palestinian supporters hailing from 22
countries are set to join the "Freedom Flotilla" leaving from
Bestselling Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell and many
journalists are among those taking part in the action seeking
to break a five-year long Israeli naval blockade.
Nine Turks died when Israeli forces seized the Mavi
Marmara, a ship taking part in the international aid flotilla
in May last year.
The raid sparked worldwide condemnation and soured
relations between Ankara and Tel-Aviv.
Israel said on Thursday it was determined to stop the
flotilla, calling the protest a "provocation" and saying the
country had a right to self defence.
UN envoy Ron Prosor said, "The flotilla has nothing
constructive -- there is nothing humanitarian or anything that
has to do with Palestinian welfare in the organizing of this
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a number of
governments have warned the flotilla not to start while the US
government has urged its nationals against taking part in the
Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2006 after militants
snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. A ban on civilian goods
and foodstuffs was eased last year but many restrictions
remain in place.
Boats from Greece, France, Italy and Spain are among
those taking part in the flotilla. Ankara said the Mavi
Marmara had been withdrawn this year and that there would be
no Turkish vessels involved in the operation.
The boats will leave from various Greek ports or meet off
the coast, said Vaguelis Pissias from the country`s "A boat
for Gaza" group, without specifying a departure date.
Greek is being used as a departure point due to its
geographic position and its "historical, cultural relations
with arab countries," he said.
Two cargo boats will carry medicines, a fully-equipped
ambulance car and cement.
"What happened last year caused us grave concern ... but
we are determined to go to Gaza, our aim is not simply to
break the embargo but to show Israelis and people in the
region that they have the right to live more harmoniously,"
The United States said last week that such flotillas were
not needed to funnel humanitarian aid because aid can be
delivered to the Israeli port of Ashdod, from where it can be
transported to Gaza.