The fate of the flotilla to the Gaza Strip was in jeopardy on Saturday after
Greek authorities prevented an American vessel from leaving Athens and issued a
blanket order forbidding ships from sailing to the Gaza Strip.
the order and additional setbacks, Adam Shapiro, an American co-founder of the
International Solidarity Movement, and one of the organizers of the flotilla,
told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night that the group still planned to sail
to the Gaza Strip in the coming days.
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He said that the Greek- Swedish
ship Juliano, which was allegedly sabotaged last week, was expected to be
repaired by Sunday morning and that an Irish ship, also allegedly sabotaged in
Turkey, was set to begin repairs soon.
“We are still arranging to go and
are working on different fronts to get permission to leave,” Shapiro said by
phone from Athens.
He also denied reports that organizers were
considering canceling the flotilla since they had already achieved their goal by
raising awareness regarding the sea blockade on the Gaza Strip.
still blockaded and there is still a need to sail there,” he said.
Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review, however, on Friday quoted Turkish
authorities as saying that the Irish vessel, Saoirse (Freedom), was damaged
before it entered Turkish waters.
The Turkish authorities investigated
claims by the owner that the ship had been sabotaged by Israel while in port in
Göcek. Their initial findings indicated that it was not sabotaged.
on Friday, the US ship The Audacity of Hope tried leaving Greece but was
immediately stopped by a Greek Coast Guard vessel with armed and masked
commandos that ordered it to return to port.
On Saturday, authorities
arrested the 60-year-old captain
of the US-flagged vessel and he was being held
at the Piraeus police headquarters where he will reportedly remain until a court
hearing on Tuesday.
The coast guard was operating under orders from the
Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection, which issued a statement on Friday saying
that the minister, C. Papoutsis, decided to prohibit the departure of ships
flying either Greek or foreign flags “to the maritime area” of Gaza.
orders of the Hellenic Coast Guard headquarters to all local Hellenic Coast
Guard Authorities, all appropriate measures are taken for the implementation of
the said decision,” the statement said.
The statement said that the
“broader maritime area of eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored
by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships
allegedly participating” in the Gaza flotilla.
While Cyprus had already
banned ships headed for Gaza from leaving its ports, the Greeks had not taken
this measure until Friday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu telephoned
his Greek counterpart to thank him for preventing ships from sailing to Gaza,
Channel 1 reported.
The nine ships that had planned to participate in the
flotilla were The Audacity of Hope; Juliano; Saoirse; Tahrir from Canada; two
Swedish- Greek cargo ships carrying 3,000 tons of supplies; the French ship
Julien Rivoire; the Italian ship Stefano Chiarini; and another French vessel
The Foreign Ministry said Saturday it would halt a plan
possibly underway on Facebook for pro-Palestinian activists to fly en mass into
Ben-Gurion Airport on the same day as the flotilla on multiple flights. It added
that those who landed in Israel as part of such a plan would be dealt with, but
did not elaborate.
The Middle East Quartet on Saturday urged all governments to do their best to discourage protest ships from
setting sail to Gaza “The Quartet strongly urges all those wishing to deliver
goods to the people of Gaza to do so through established channels, so that their
cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings,” it said
in a statement.
Israel has “legitimate security concerns that must be
safeguarded,” the Quartet wrote. It added that it was committed to working with
Israel, Egypt and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking
of arms and ammunition into Gaza.
But at the same time, it said, movement
and access for Palestinian people and goods must be ensured.
remains concerned about the unsustainable conditions facing the civilian
population in Gaza,” it said.
While conditions have improved in the past
year, more needs to be done, it said.
“Members of the Quartet continue to
urge full implementation of Israel’s June 2010 policy decision and further
meaningful steps to improve the situation in Gaza consistent with Security
Council Resolution 1860 (2009),” it said.