Turkish vessel embarks to join flotilla attempting to assist Gaza


A TRIPLE-DECK Turkish ferry received a grand send-off on Saturday as it left Istanbul to join the Freedom Flotilla of passenger and cargo vessels seeking to break Israel’s four-year-old blockade of Gaza. Thousands of Turks cheered as white doves of peace fluttered overhead. The ferry is carrying 600 activists as well as tonnes of cement, medical equipment and school supplies for Gaza.

The ferry and two Turkish cargo vessels are sponsored by a charity which enjoys the support of the Turkish government, and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Israel to allow the flotilla to reach Gaza.

The vessels are set to rendez- vous off Cyprus with four passenger vessels, two belonging to the Free Gaza Movement, which mounted five successful voyages to Gaza during 2008 – one from the European Campaign to the Siege, and one each from the Greek and Swedish Ship-to-Gaza organisations. On its way from Ireland is Free Gaza’s cargo vessel, Rachel Corrie, named for a young woman from the US crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. Irish passengers include Nobel laureate Maireád Maguire, Chris Andrews (TD Dublin), Aengus Ó Snodaigh (TD Dublin) and Senator Mark Daly (Kerry).

Israel has vowed to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza and a fleet of private Israeli vessels set off from a marina near Tel Aviv to protest at its arrival. It is unlikely that the opposing vessels will meet, however, because Israel has imposed a 20 nautical mile closure on the Gaza coast.

Meanwhile in Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency protested at the vandalisation of one of its 35 holiday camp sites for 250,000 Palestinian refugee children. Irish national John Ging, the agency’s Gaza director, dubbed the incident “vandalism linked to extremism and an attack on the happiness of children”.

Three bullets were left in an envelope for Mr Ging and other camp organisers.