An Irish ship set to join the Gaza-bound flotilla has dropped out after sustaining engine damage, The Irish Times reported Thursday.
"Saoirse," one of ten ships set to sail in the mass movement to break the Gaza sea blockade, was docked in Turkish waters Monday night when it sustained engine damage. Fintan Lane, coordinator of the Irish Ship to Gaza organization, called the act "dangerous sabotage" and said the ship he believed divers had worked underwater to cut a piece of the propeller shaft.
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Flotilla spokesman Dror Feiler said there
was no direct evidence Israel was involved in a statement provided to
Army Radio. However, Lane pointed out similarities between the vandalism of "Saoirse" and that of the Swedish boat "Juliano," which was damaged last week in a Greek port.
The government is hopeful that a continued delay of the launch of the
Gaza-bound flotilla will lead to a further drop in the number of vessels
and participants. The more the “organizers and participants have to run in place in Athens,” the better it is for Israel, one official said.
Bureaucratic delays, strikes at Greek ports and damaged ships continue to delay the flotilla, which was originally scheduled to set sail at mid-week.
Huwaida Arraf, one of the heads of the Free Gaza Movement, said by phone from Athens on Wednesday that the flotilla will likely not set sail for a number of days.The organizers said the ship's damage would be presented at a press conference on Thursday.
Although at one time organizers said they expected 1,500 participants, now the numbers are believed to have dropped to around 350, who are expected to be aboard about 10 vessels.
Diplomatic officials, meanwhile, welcomed the elements of another statement by the French Foreign Ministry that strongly denounced the flotilla, while expressing reservations about the part of the same statement calling for Israel to lift the closure on Gaza.
Calling the flotilla a “bad idea that is expected only to increase tension and be a source of conflict,” the French Foreign Ministry statement expressed “concern that the flotilla includes two French vessels.
“Last year’s events showed that there is a danger that confrontation will result from these initiatives,” the statement said. “Therefore we call on everyone to show responsibility and prevent a reoccurrence of those events.”
The statement said Paris did not have the legal tools to prevent the ships from leaving French ports or to stop them on the high seas in the event that they try to break the blockade.
While denouncing the flotilla, the ministry said this did not “change anything regarding our stance on the closure of the Gaza Strip and our demand for a fundamental change in the Israeli position.”
It is critical, the statement said, “that Israel allows the rapid transfer of assistance to its destination, and continue in its policy of easing the closure until its final annulment. We will follow these matters attentively.”
One Israeli official said the problem with European calls to lift the closure is that they are often made without context, and say nothing of what is expected from Hamas in Gaza.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Turkish secretary-general of the Organization
of the Islamic Conference was quoted in the Turkish media on Tuesday
saying that “a return of last year’s events may lead to problems that
will be impossible to solve. There is no need for that.”
He said humanitarian aid was continuing to be brought in the Gaza Strip
over land. He also said he viewed positively Israel’s easing of the
closure, but added the “siege of Gaza was against human rights.”
Meanwhile, Arraf said reports that the French ship Dignity
was already sailing towards Gaza on its own were false. Instead, she
said, the vessel was on its way to Greece where it would join up with
the other ships.
“There is no point in going to the meeting point if we are going to be delayed for days,” she said.
On Wednesday, a group of Jordanian and international activists purchased
a new ship for around $800,000 that will join the flotilla. At the same
time, organizers are working to repair the propeller of the
Greek-Swedish ship Juliano
that they claimed was sabotaged.