Israeli navy tracks ship carrying aid for Gaza

 

THE ISRAELI navy is closely monitoring a vessel carrying medical supplies and Asian activists poised to set sail from the Syrian port of Latakia for el-Arish in Egypt.

The ship, christened Asia One, is to offload passengers and cargo valued at $1 million at el-Arish.

Activists and aid are to proceed to Gaza by land rather than directly challenge Israel’s block- ade at sea.

This new effort to reach Gaza comes seven months after Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turkish activists on the Istanbul ferry Mavi Marmaraand seized half a dozen ships taking part in the largest blockade busting flotilla mounted since 2008.

An unnamed activist insisted there were no weapons on board Asia One. If the ship is approached by the Israeli navy during its passage to Egypt, he said passengers would “face it with non-violence. We’ll face it with a prayer in our hearts.”

While the aim of the Asian organisers was to enter the Strip on December 27th, the second anniversary of Israel’s devastating war on Gaza, the ship’s departure from Latakia has been delayed by the Egyptian authorities which need to issue a landing permit for el-Arish.

The first Asian land and sea caravan attempting to break the Israeli siege of Gaza set off from India early this month and proceeded to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Syria, picking up activists and donations en route.

Some 160-180 Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist peace campaigners from a dozen Asian countries are on board the vessel. They were joined by seven Iranian parliamentarians in Syria where a delegation from the group met the head of Hamas’s politburo, Khaled Mishaal, in Damascus.

Organiser Ashim Roy, an Indian trade unionist, said: “We believe that there must be a strong Asian involvement in the global movement to end the siege of Gaza and liberation of Palestine.” The group mounting the convoy is comprised of trade unions, social movements and civil society organisations.

The arrival of the Asian convoy coincides with the formal recognition by a growing number of Latin American governments of the state of Palestine within territories conquered by Israel in 1967.

Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay have so far extended such recognition in spite of Israeli efforts to block this process. Israel is lobbying Mexico and Chile to reject recognition but Chilean senators have called on the government to grant it.

Recently Norway accorded the Palestinian representative to Oslo the status of an ambassador, while Spain, France and Portugal have also upgraded representation. Other European states are expected to follow suit.

Palestinians see recognition of the borders of the Palestinian state as being significant at this time. While more than 100 mostly non-aligned countries recognised the Palestine National Council’s 1988 declaration of independence, recognition by additional countries and upgrading of diplomatic representation by European states steps up pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and allow a Palestinian state to emerge.