Aid mission: boat departs Cyprus


In freezing rain, shivering volunteers yesterday loaded boxes of urgently needed medical supplies on the SS Dignity in Larnaca, Cyprus, as it prepared for the Free Gaza movement's sixth blockade-busting voyage to embattled Gaza.

The Dignity, stacked high with cartons, rode low in the water but one crew member said the problem was not weight, but volume.

Dr Elena Theoharous, founder of the Cyprus chapter of Doctors of the World, arranged the cargo on the 18-metre yacht which set sail last evening with a portion of the 3.5 tonnes donated by Cypriots to the devastated hospitals of Gaza. Dr Theoharous, a pediatric surgeon and member of parliament, received a list of items from colleagues struggling to cope with the tide of wounded from Israeli bombing of the Strip.

A doctor at the central Shifa hospital said 320 people have died and 180 have been severely wounded since Israel launched its offensive.

Former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney flew in to Cyprus from the US.

Ms McKinney said she had come to break the "veritable wall of silence" which surrounds situations involving Israel and prevents discussion in the US of Israel's actions against Palesti- nians.

She said she intends to call upon president-elect Barack Obama to speak out against the Israeli attacks and, once in office, to take action against the "transfer of weapons of mass destruction" to Israel in violation of US and international law.

Also on board the Dignity are peace activists from five countries, including Caoimhe Butterly from Ireland.