Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Saturday the flotilla
carrying aid and activists to Gaza is a victory for his government and
signals the end of the Israeli naval blockade, whether it reaches its destination or is
intercepted by the Israeli navy.
"If the ships reach Gaza, it's a victory for Gaza," Haniyeh told some
400 supporters after touring Gaza City's small fishing harbor, where
several smaller vessels breaking the blockade have docked in the past.
"If they are intercepted and terrorized by the Zionists, it will be a
victory for Gaza, too, and they will move again in new ships to break
the siege of Gaza."
The flotilla was still held up in Cyprus on Saturday. The flotilla organizers were
negotiating with the authorities of Turkish Cyprus to allow 25 European
Parliament members and a Holocaust survivor to board through a Turkish-controlled
port in the north of the island, following a refusal by the Republic of
Cyprus.RELATED:Hamas prepares warm welcome for activistsCounter-flotilla plans demonstrationIDF to intercept Gaza-headed flotillaGaza port readies for flotilla
Republic of Cyprus authorities said the decision was made to protect the island's "vital interests" — including economic ties with Israel.
Some ship captains of the flotilla were detained shortly overnight for trying to get the legislators on board in contravention of the Republic of Cyprus’s instructions, but had been released on Saturday, according to Israel Radio
The flotilla was to set sail toward Gaza on Saturday afternoon, in any event, and approach the territory on Sunday, about 24 hours behind schedule, said Greta Berlin, one of the activists.
Mechanical problems forced the flotilla to shrink from eight ships to
A showdown with the Israeli navy appeared inevitable.
Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, reiterated Saturday that
the ships would be intercepted, denouncing the sea convoy as a
provocation and violation of maritime laws. Israel and Egypt imposed a
blockade on Gaza after the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory
by force three years ago.
Israel has said it is determined to
intercept and search the vessels, then tow them to an Israeli port.