Israelis shadow peace boats exit from Gaza

Fri, Aug 29, 2008, 01:00

ISRAEL:ISRAELI NAVAL vessels shadowed the SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty as they started their 370km (230miles) return journey to Cyprus yesterday, carrying seven Palestinians, 31 human rights activists and several journalists. This voyage amounted to a fresh challenge to Israel, which since occupying the Strip in 1967, has exercised full control over everyone and everything entering and exiting Gaza.

Although Israeli officials indicated the boats will have free passage, press reports suggested they could be stopped and searched.

Among the Palestinian passengers, who have been denied Israeli exit visas, are Said Mosleh, a 10-year-old boy who lost a leg to an Israeli tank shell, his father, and five members of the Darwish family who plan to join relatives in Cyprus.

"I can't believe we're finally able to leave for medical treatment," stated Khaled Mosleh. "We will break the blockade so my son can get a prothesis."

Derek Graham from Ballina, Co Mayo, is also on board. The boats received a tumultuous welcome in Gaza on Saturday, after breaching Israel's blockade. The Free Gaza movement declared their voyage had forced Israel to effect a "fundamental policy change" since its foreign ministry had announced that "humanitarian and human rights missions to Gaza will no longer be threatened or stopped by Israel."

The "peace pirates" intend to "quickly return to Gaza with another delegation" and called upon the UN, the Arab League and the international community to organise similar efforts.

The movement pledged "to ensure that safe passage between Gaza and the outside world will remain free and open." Nine activists, including Irish national Ken O'Keeffe, remain in Gaza.

The boats' departure coincided with Israel's re-opening of goods crossings into Gaza, closed after two rockets were fired into Israel on Monday.

A UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs report reveals that since the truce with Hamas came into effect on June 19th, imports, which were supposed to increase, have declined and Gazans have had "no significant access and movement dividend from [the] truce."