Gaza flotilla boat is forced back to shore

Tue, Jul 5, 2011, 01:00

AN ATTEMPT by one of the Gaza-bound flotilla boats to leave Crete and reach open sea yesterday in defiance of a Greek government order was thwarted when coast guard officials forced it back to shore.

Canadian boat Tahrir(which means liberation), part of an international flotilla seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza by travelling to the coastal strip with humanitarian aid and letters, was boarded by coast guard officials. The passengers and crew were taken into custody after they refused to identify the captain.

Last week Greece banned all flotilla ships from leaving its ports for Gaza.

The Free Gaza movement yesterday scuppered a Greek-Israeli compromise deal by rejecting a Greek proposal to transport to Israel, for delivery to Gaza, the goods and letters on board the boats.

“Not a chance that Free Gaza will accept that. This [effort] is not about delivering goods but breaking the illegal siege of Gaza,” said Greta Berlin, founder of the parent organisation that made several successful voyages to Gaza in 2008. “There is no way that the coalition [of participating organisations] will accept that.”

After securing Israeli acceptance of the deal, Greek prime minister George Papandreou spoke on the telephone to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who, according to the premier’s office, “considered the proposal positive and offered his support”.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said the offer would reduce tensions in the region. However, the rejection by Free Gaza means it unlikely to go ahead.

Activists complain that cargo on blockade-busting boats intercepted by Israel in 2009 and 2010 languished in warehouses in the Israeli port of Ashdod for weeks and months before some items were allowed into Gaza. Cement was destroyed by humidity and medications by lack of refrigeration. Hard-pressed UN agencies resent having to deal with spoiled goods and are in no position to see that 3,000 letters to Gazans are delivered to the appropriate addresses.

Ms Berlin said the propeller of the Greek-Swedish-Norwegian boat that was allegedly sabotaged by Israel has been repaired and is about to be relaunched.

But it was not clear, she said, what Athens intended to do about the boats in Greek waters.

A US boat, Audacity of Hope, is captive in a military marina near Athens while the Spanish and Canadian boats are still blocked in Cretan moorings by a Greek coastguard cutter.

“They can’t keep our boats indefinitely,” said Ms Berlin. “Once we get away, we’ll regroup and make the voyage in the fall. We’re not going to give up until the siege is lifted.”

The Irish boat, Saoirse, is in dry dock in Turkey where its propeller, also said to have been tampered with by Israeli frogmen, is being repaired.

The French vessel, an elegant wooden sailboat, is the only free vessel in the flotilla. Its captain has said he will not make the journey to Gaza until the skipper of the US boat, John Klusmire, is freed from detention by the Greek police.

Mr Klusmire is due to appear in court today to answer charges of defying an order to remain in port and risking the lives of passengers who could be harmed if Israel used naval power to interdict the ships off the Gaza coast.