Activists reject Greek offer to send flotilla aid

Flotilla organizers reject Greek offer to send humanitarian aid to Gaza under UN supervision; passengers on US ship 'Audacity of Hope' stage hunger strike, protest outside US embassy in Athens.

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July 4, 2011 01:16
3 minute read.
US FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS from ‘The Audacity of Hope’

US FLOTILLA ACTIVISTS from ‘The Audacity of Hope’ 311. (photo credit: Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters)

 
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Organizers of the flotilla seeking to break Israel’s blockade over the Gaza Strip on Sunday rejected an offer by Athens to allow Greek Navy ships to transfer the humanitarian aid they had planned to bring with them to Gaza on their behalf.

Earlier on Sunday, activists on the flotilla ship The Audacity of Hope announced an open-ended hunger strike aimed at pressuring the US government to allow the ship to set sail to the Gaza Strip, organizers said.

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Eight of the ship’s passengers, including Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin and former CIA official Ray McGovern, were listed as those participating in the hunger strike.

Nevertheless, organizers said Sunday night that they were still looking into ways to circumvent a Greek government order preventing the ships from leaving Greece for the Gaza Strip.

“It is possible that this is under consideration but... that is not considered breaking the siege,” said Ewa Jasiewicz, one of the leaders of the Free Gaza Movement, which is in charge of the flotilla. “We want to break the siege and the flotilla is not about expanding the drip of humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

Israel responded that the Greek proposition to transport the flotilla’s humanitarian aid to Gaza under UN supervision reasonable “as long as cargo is checked for any chance of weapons smuggling,” Army Radio reported Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor as saying on Sunday.

Palmor said Israel has no issue with transporting equipment or goods in the appropriate channels.

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Jasiewicz said flotilla organizers were still looking into ways to sail out of Greece, which on Friday issued an order banning the ships from sailing to Gaza, and later detained the captain of the US-flagged Audacity of Hope after he tried leaving port.

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She hinted to the possibility that some of the ships would consider sailing despite the Greek order.

“The decision is to keep exploring options and to continue with the flotilla,” she said. “The boats that were sabotaged are being repaired and we still have possession of our boats and are exploring opportunities for sailing. We are confident.”

Additionally, the group said it would be holding a protest in front of the US embassy in Athens to publicly make their call to the US government.

“We call on officials at the US Embassy in Athens to publicly acknowledge our right to sail and to call on the Greek government to free our ship and its captain immediately,” American activist and would-be flotilla passenger Kathy Kelly said in the statement.

The statement added that US Deputy Consul-General Kate Brandeis in Athens told the activists they “had a right to sail to Gaza” in a June 24 meeting.

It lamented that the embassy has not assisted the captain of the boat, a US citizen, who remains in Greek custody.

Due to the chance that the ships might still set sail, the Israel Navy is continuing to maintain a state of readiness if it will need to stop the ships from reaching Gaza.

On Sunday, senior government officials expressed optimism with the setbacks that the flotilla was continuing to encounter, and pointed to the fact that some of the participants had already given up and left Greece to return to their home countries.

“We obviously still need to prepare for the possibility that flotillas will arrive,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said before the weekly cabinet meeting. “We are seeing positive developments regarding the flotilla. The governments of Greece, Cyprus and Turkey are actively stopping it. This is a result of extensive work by the Foreign Ministry and the prime minister.”

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Hamas called on Greece to reverse its decision and allow the ships to sail to Gaza.

Hamas’s foreign minister said it was regrettable that Greece had succumbed to international pressure.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to the report.

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