Gaza flotilla finally sets out

Flotilla due to reach Gaza in next 24 hours with Balad MK on board.

May 30, 2010 12:59
2 minute read.
Gaza boats

Gaza boats 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The organizers of the Gaza protest flotilla said the ships set out from Cyprus Sunday morning and were set to arrive in Israeli waters on Monday.

The flotilla was originally slated to arrive in Gaza on Saturday but faced several delays because of technical difficulties.

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While eight ships were initially scheduled to sail to Gaza, in the end a total of five ships were reported to be on their way after three suffered technical malfunctions.

Flotilla bound for Gaza delayed, loses key members
Haniyeh: Gaza flotilla a triumph

One of the highest profile figures on the ships is Balad MK Haneen Zoabi, who said she was proud to do her part to end what she called a siege on Gaza. Right-wing MKs called for Zoabi’s arrest and ouster from the Knesset.

“Zoabi is working together with Israel’s enemies to encourage terrorism and harm Israel’s image internationally, and these acts constitute treason,” Likud MK Danny Danon wrote to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein in his request for him to order Zoabi’s arrest upon her arrival in Israel.

Part of the delay was caused by difficulties the organizers encountered in trying to have two dozen more would-be passengers, including 19 European legislators and a Holocaust survivor, join the ships anchored in international waters off Cyprus. The Cypriot government did not allow smaller boats to ferry the group to the flotilla.

Authorities in Cyprus said the decision was made to protect the island’s “vital interests,” including economic ties with Israel.

Organizers then appealed to the Turkish government to get the group out via a Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus port. Turkish Cypriot officials have said they want to help the group as much as they can.

In addition to encountering diplomatic obstacles and mechanical problems, the ships reportedly lost their satellite phone connections twice.

Lieberman: Gov't will not allow ships to violate its

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Friday that Israel would not allow the protest ships to violate its sovereignty, and that they would be stopped.

The navy is prepared to stop the ships before they reach Gaza and has put most of its forces on operational standby since Friday. The ships will receive a number of warnings as they begin to approach the Gaza Strip, starting from a distance of about 65 kilometers. If the ships are commandeered, they will be sailed to the Ashdod Port, where the government has set up tents to hold the activists.

The activists will be taken to the tents for identification and medical attention, and asked to leave the country voluntarily. If they refuse, they will be arrested and transferred to the custody of the Prisons Service and the Interior Ministry.

Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report

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