Irish ship on course to reach Gaza


The Irish ship MV Saoirse is on course to arrive at the port of Gaza tomorrow accompanied by a Canadian ship, in an effort to break Israel’s naval blockade of the territory.

Dr Fintan Lane, co-ordinator of the Irish Ship to Gaza campaign, this morning said the ships were in international waters south-west of Cyprus, some 400km from Gaza.

“Everything is going well,” Dr Lane said from the ship this morning. “It’s still early to be contacted by the Israeli navy” he added.

The ship is carrying 14 Irish citizens.

Dr Lane spoke of concerns regarding a possible intervention by Israeli authorities. “Of course people [on board] are nervous but determined to continue until we reach the port of Gaza and express solidarity face to face with Palestinian people,” he said.

Dr Lane said intervention by Israel could only be stopped through “international pressure”.

The MV Saoirse is travelling at a reduced speed to stay alongside its sister Canadian ship Tahrir which could not travel as fast, he said.

An Israeli military official said the country’s navy will prevent the boats from breaching the blockade and reaching Gaza. Lt Col Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone last night, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only "we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers."

Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying the Irish, Canadian and US activists, Lt Col Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a "provocation", she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gaza coast.

An Israeli government official earlier said that Israel "will take whatever measures will be necessary" to maintain its blockade. In May 2010, Israeli commandos raided a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, which was sailing as part of an international flotilla to Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed.

The MV Saoirse and Tahrir  left the Turkish port of Fethiye at noon yesterday and entered international waters some two hours later. Dr Lane said they were followed closely by Turkish coastguards into international waters.

He was speaking by phone to a press conference organised by the Irish Ship to Gaza campaign.

At a press conference in Dublin this morning, United Left Alliance TDs Joe Higgins and Richard Boyd Barrett urged Government to call on Israel to allow the ships through and ensure there was no threat to the people on board.

Sinn Féin TD Aonghus O’Snodaigh also called on the Government to “stand up to Israel”.

Siptu's Marie Barry said the union was supporting the campaign and called on the Government to defend Irish citizens on board.

The 14 Irish citizens on board include Dr Lane, former Leinster and Ireland rugby player Trevor Hogan, Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy, former Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews, Siptu official Mags O’Brien, artist Felim Egan, People Before Profit councillor in Dún Laoghaire Hugh Lewis, Sinn Féin councillors Pat Fitzgerald and John Hearne, both from Waterford City Council, and Zoe Lawlor, who teaches at the University of Limerick and is a member of the national committee of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The MV Saoirse is captained by a Greek national.

Artist Robert Ballagh said royalties he earned from performances of Riverdance in Israel would help to pay for much of the fuel for the MV Saoirse’s voyage. Mr Ballagh designed the set for Riverdance and had called for a boycott of the show in Israel earlier this year.

Additional reporting Reuters