Activist: Gaza flotilla aims to leave Greece next week

Despite number of setbacks, flotilla organizer tells 'Post' that group still plans to sail to Gaza, "sabotaged" ships to be repaired.

US boat to Gaza flotilla 'Audacity of Hope' 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/John Kolesidis)
US boat to Gaza flotilla 'Audacity of Hope' 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/John Kolesidis)
The fate of the flotilla to the Gaza Strip was in jeopardy on Saturday after Greek authorities prevented an American vessel from leaving Athens and issued a blanket order forbidding ships from sailing to the Gaza Strip.
Despite the order and additional setbacks, Adam Shapiro, an American co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, and one of the organizers of the flotilla, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night that the group still planned to sail to the Gaza Strip in the coming days.
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He said that the Greek- Swedish ship Juliano, which was allegedly sabotaged last week, was expected to be repaired by Sunday morning and that an Irish ship, also allegedly sabotaged in Turkey, was set to begin repairs soon.
“We are still arranging to go and are working on different fronts to get permission to leave,” Shapiro said by phone from Athens.
He also denied reports that organizers were considering canceling the flotilla since they had already achieved their goal by raising awareness regarding the sea blockade on the Gaza Strip.
“Gaza is still blockaded and there is still a need to sail there,” he said.
The Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review, however, on Friday quoted Turkish authorities as saying that the Irish vessel, Saoirse (Freedom), was damaged before it entered Turkish waters.
The Turkish authorities investigated claims by the owner that the ship had been sabotaged by Israel while in port in Göcek. Their initial findings indicated that it was not sabotaged.
Also on Friday, the US ship The Audacity of Hope tried leaving Greece but was immediately stopped by a Greek Coast Guard vessel with armed and masked commandos that ordered it to return to port.
On Saturday, authorities arrested the 60-year-old captain of the US-flagged vessel and he was being held at the Piraeus police headquarters where he will reportedly remain until a court hearing on Tuesday.
The coast guard was operating under orders from the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection, which issued a statement on Friday saying that the minister, C. Papoutsis, decided to prohibit the departure of ships flying either Greek or foreign flags “to the maritime area” of Gaza.
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“By orders of the Hellenic Coast Guard headquarters to all local Hellenic Coast Guard Authorities, all appropriate measures are taken for the implementation of the said decision,” the statement said.
The statement said that the “broader maritime area of eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating” in the Gaza flotilla.
While Cyprus had already banned ships headed for Gaza from leaving its ports, the Greeks had not taken this measure until Friday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu telephoned his Greek counterpart to thank him for preventing ships from sailing to Gaza, Channel 1 reported.
The nine ships that had planned to participate in the flotilla were The Audacity of Hope; Juliano; Saoirse; Tahrir from Canada; two Swedish- Greek cargo ships carrying 3,000 tons of supplies; the French ship Julien Rivoire; the Italian ship Stefano Chiarini; and another French vessel called Dignity.
The Foreign Ministry said Saturday it would halt a plan possibly underway on Facebook for pro-Palestinian activists to fly en mass into Ben-Gurion Airport on the same day as the flotilla on multiple flights. It added that those who landed in Israel as part of such a plan would be dealt with, but did not elaborate.
The Middle East Quartet on Saturday urged all governments to do their best to discourage protest ships from setting sail to Gaza “The Quartet strongly urges all those wishing to deliver goods to the people of Gaza to do so through established channels, so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings,” it said in a statement.
Israel has “legitimate security concerns that must be safeguarded,” the Quartet wrote. It added that it was committed to working with Israel, Egypt and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza.
But at the same time, it said, movement and access for Palestinian people and goods must be ensured.
“The Quartet remains concerned about the unsustainable conditions facing the civilian population in Gaza,” it said.
While conditions have improved in the past year, more needs to be done, it said.
“Members of the Quartet continue to urge full implementation of Israel’s June 2010 policy decision and further meaningful steps to improve the situation in Gaza consistent with Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009),” it said.