Gaza flotilla organizers: Israel sabotaged Irish ship

Irish ship is second vessel to face damage; Organizers report "Saoirse" engine damaged while docked in Turkey, forcing new delays; Number of expected participants drops from 1,500 to 350.

June 30, 2011 09:58
3 minute read.
Pro-Palestinian flotilla activists

Flotilla protest Greece 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis)


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Organizers of the upcoming Gaza flotilla faced fresh delays Thursday when an Irish ship due to participate was found to have engine damage, an event the flotilla participants said was due to Israeli sabotage, Army Radio reported.

The ship, dubbed "Saoirse," had been docked overnight in Turkish waters. Flotilla spokesman Dror Feiler said there was no direct evidence Israel was involved in a statement provided to Army Radio.

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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.

Additionally, flotilla organizers said on Wednesday night that damages were caused to an Irish ship, Israel Radio reported.

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.

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“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.

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