Navy attacks activist vessel carrying doctors to Strip


AT 05.15 yesterday morning the SS Dignity, an 18m yacht carrying three doctors, three tonnes of medical aid and peace activists from Cyprus to embattled Gaza, was in international waters about 90 nautical miles from the Gaza coast when an Israeli warship attacked.

Speaking from Lebanon, Irish national Caoimhe Butterly said the Israeli naval vessels had been tailing the Dignity for some time when one, without lights, rammed the yacht three times, damaging the hull on the port side and smashing the wheelhouse.

“We had not been expecting this so far out,” she said.

“We were not prepared, some of us were not wearing life vests.

“They gave no radio warning, we were not asked to identify ourselves. [The attack] was very sudden, very aggressive.

“After they rammed us they fired flares, spoke on the radio and threatened to shoot if we did not return to Larnaca. They said we were engaged in terrorist activity. We were afraid the boat would sink,” she said.

The vessel then made for the southern Lebanese port of Tyre, where it was welcomed by a throng of well-wishers.

Among those on board were Dr Elena Theoharous, a Cypriot member of parliament and paediatric surgeon; Cynthia McKinney, a former US congresswoman from Georgia; and Sami al-Hajj, a cameraman from al-Jazeera detained for six years by the US at Guantánamo.

Gaza-born Dr Muhammad Issa, who practises at London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, said he was going to the Strip to work in intensive care units. He stated: “I feel helpless – I cannot fail my people. We will find ways to get medical help to the Palestinians.”

The Gibraltar-registered Dignity set sail from Larnaca on Monday on the Free Gaza Movement’s sixth mission to Gaza.

Cypriot foreign minister Marcos Kyprianou said Cyprus would make a formal protest over the incident because of the presence of its citizens on board.