Greece prohibits Gaza flotilla boats from leaving its ports


ORGANISERS OF the blockade-busting Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza have said the boats will set sail this week. Today has been mentioned as a possible departure date, but this is unlikely.

The Greek government has issued an order prohibiting all boats, local or foreign, from sailing from Greek ports to Gaza. Since eight of the nine boats remaining in the flotilla are in Greece, they remain at their moorings trapped in red tape. The French boat is either at sea or at an undisclosed location.

Yesterday Greece told organisers of the flotilla being detained at its ports it was willing to transfer any aid on the ships to the Palestinians rather than having activists try to break Israels naval embargo of the Gaza Strip.

Greta Berlin, a founder of the Free Gaza movement, told The Irish Timesthat several boats were in a holding marina behind a locked gate and the passports of passengers and crew had been seized by the Greek authorities. She said passengers and crew had been given access to the boats.

John Klusmire, captain of the US boat, Audacity of Hope, was arrested on Saturday, handcuffed and detained in a jail cell furnished with a bench rather than a bunk. He is due to appear in court tomorrow.

He defied the authorities by taking the boat out to sea last Friday without obtaining the proper clearance from the port authorities. The boat was intercepted by Greek coastguard vessels and forced to turn back.

He could be charged with defying a police order and disrupting sea traffic. Crewmen and passengers were surprised to discover he could be prosecuted for felonies rather than misdemeanours, as they originally expected. They are staying in Greece in solidarity with the captain.

The organiser of the US vessel, Jane Hirschmann, said the Greeks had blocked the boat’s departure as a result of a complaint lodged by Shurat HaDin, an Israeli law centre funded by John Hagee, a US Christian fundamentalist with strong ties to Israel. Ms Hirschmann said the charges were “bogus” and expressed the hope Capt Klusmire would be freed without having to defend himself in court.

In Athens for a meeting, Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti said, “We consider this . . . flotilla one part of a peaceful . . . struggle” that aims at “liberating Palestinians from occupation. It is also a way of liberating the Israelis from . . . the same occupation . . . The Israelis will never be free as long as the Palestinians aren’t free.” He called on the Greek government to allow all the boats to sail and observed that Palestinian peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation was in the best tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela.

Leftist Greek activists and parliamentarians have accused their government of capitulating to Israeli pressure but foreign minister Stavros Lambrinidis retorted that the government is trying to avert a “humanitarian disaster” resulting from fresh Israeli military intervention against the flotilla. – (Additional reporting Bloomberg)