Gaza-bound flotilla ships to set sail Monday


ATHENS, Greece (JTA) — All operational ships slated to participate in the Gaza-bond flotilla will depart on Monday, organizers said.

It is still unknown exactly how many ships will set out for Gaza with the stated goal of breaking Israel’s maritime blockade of the coastal strip. 

The American-flagged ship, the Audacity of Hope, was stopped on July 2 less than a mile outside the port of Perama, near Athens, by the Greek coast guard after leaving without authorization, testing the Greek government’s prohibition of allowing ships bound for Gaza to leave the port.

About 30 people, including TV cameras from international networks, were aboard the Audacity of Hope, whose captain spent three hours negotiating the ship’s return to the port.

The captain, who is due in a Greek court on Tuesday to answer charges that he defied the government ban and put his passengers’ lives in danger, argued that the coast guard had no right to stop the ship because its papers were in order. The guard informed the captain that its commando unit was armed and ready to board the ship.

Passengers sang "We Shall Overcome" as the ship returned to the port.

Greek authorities barred passengers of all flotilla ships anchored in its ports to disembark.

Representatives of the Audacity of Hope blamed Greece of succumbing to Israeli pressure.

Greek flotilla organizer Vangelis Pissias told a news conference that the flotilla participants "condemn the policy and attitude of the Greek government. The Greek people have nothing to do with all that is happening and always stand by the Palestinian people. The journey starts now and efforts for our ships to sail will continue."

Meanwhile, the Hamas terrorist group in Damascus condemned the Greek government’s treatment of the flotilla, saying that it is "an inhuman act" that "goes against international law."

Hamas said the decision to keep the flotilla ships in port "was the result of pressure by the Zionist conquerors." Hamas called on the European Union and human rights organizations "to exert pressure" on the Greek government to allow the ships to sail.

Israeli-born Swedish citizen Dror Feiler, a passenger on the American ship, said that "Last year we got close to Gaza, this year I hope we will get even closer, the journey has just started. The authorities are against us, but the people are with us."

On the island of Crete, the Greek coast guard prevented the Canadian ship Tahrir from sailing and confiscated its documents.

The ships were to have marked the May 31, 2010 raid of a similar flotilla by Israeli commandos. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the subsequent melee, including a Turkish-American dual citizen.

Israel says the flotilla is illegal and military action to keep it from arriving in Gaza is legitimate. Israel maintains the blockade to keep weapons from flowing into Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and also as leverage to secure the freedom of Gilad Shalit, a kidnapped soldier held by Hamas since 2006.

Human rights groups say the blockade keeps out basic foods and medicines, although the Obama administration says its conditions have eased considerably in the last year.

Recommended from JTA