US flotilla to Gaza organizers say boat departed Greece

By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS
July 1, 2011 17:00

'Audacity of Hope' organizers say Greek authorities were present at harbor, didn't stop the ship; earlier, flotilla spokesperson said boats would set sail early next week; unclear how many boats are at sea.

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US boat to Gaza flotilla 'Audacity of Hope'

US boat to Gaza flotilla 'Audacity of Hope' 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/John Kolesidis)

Organizers of the US boat participating in the flotilla to Gaza said Friday afternoon that their boat, The Audacity of Hope, had left the Greek harbor where it was docked, they said through the organization's Twitter feed.

Minutes earlier, organizers said that the ship's passengers were preparing to "non-violently resist any efforts to stop the boat," saying moments later that the boat "is about to set sail."
Through the boat's twitter feed, organizers said that a Greek Coast Guard vessel approached The Audacity of Hope as it was pulling away from the dock but then sped away.

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Pictures posted online by organizers showed the ship leaving the Greek harbor.

It was not clear how many of the other boats slated to participate in the flotilla aiming to break the blockade on Gaza had departed their ports. Organizers have said that the boats will meet at a rendezvous point in the Mediterranean before setting sail for Gaza.

Earlier Friday, a spokesperson for the larger flotilla effort said that the ships would set sail next week after repeated delays that activists blame on Israeli sabotage.

"Israel is doing its very, very best to make sure we don't get out of port," spokeswoman Greta Berlin said, speaking by telephone from Greece where some of the ships are moored.

"We want to move the boats by July 5 to get to our rendezvous point no later than July 6 or 7 ... We will go with what we have," she added.

The small flotilla, including boats from the United States, France and Canada, was due to leave at least a week ago, but the departure has been constantly put back amidst allegations of a dirty tricks campaign to stop the pro-Palestinian initiative.

Israel says its blockade of Gaza is aimed at stopping weapons from reaching the enclave's rulers, the terrorist group Hamas.

Palestinians and their supporters say the naval closure is illegal and constitutes collective punishment for Gaza's 1.5 million residents.

Irish activists accused Israel on Thursday of sabotaging their boat in Turkey by damaging the propeller shaft, stopping it from sailing to Gaza.

Berlin said the Greek authorities had not yet allowed a US boat, The Audacity of Hope, to leave the port of Piraeus.

"The Greeks are cooperating with Israel as much as they can," she said, adding that nine boats were now hoping to take part in the mission, compared with original plans for up to 15 ships.

Israel has denounced the flotilla as a provocation, but has denied allegations it sabotaged both the Irish boat and a Swedish vessel, which also reported propeller damage after berthing in a Greek port earlier in the week.

Israel has urged foreign governments not to let the second convoy get under way. In a speech on Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanked allies, including Greece, for taking steps to block the activists.

"I want to thank many leaders in the world for speaking and acting recently against the provocative flotilla," he said. "Israel has the full right to act against the efforts to facilitate rockets-smuggling to Hamas's terror enclave."


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