Navy allows protest boats to leave Gaza

Vessels, which sailed to Strip to break blockade, leave for Cyprus with seven Palestinians on board.

Gaza activist boat 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza activist boat 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel allowed two boats carrying international activists and seven Palestinians to leave Gaza on Thursday and sail without interruption back to Cyprus. The boats had been allowed to dock in Gaza harbor last Saturday after the government decided not to clash with the 45 human rights activists aboard and play into what officials said was a clear provocation intended to damage Israel's public image. The Free Gaza Movement said that among the Palestinians who left Gaza were five children, including 10-year-old Saed Mosleh from Beit Hanoun, who the group said had lost one of his legs to an Israeli tank shell. He left Gaza with his father to seek medical treatment abroad. Also on board was the Darwish family, which will be reunited with its relatives in Cyprus. "I can't believe we're finally able to leave for medical treatment," said Khaled Mosleh, Saed's father. "This is a miracle of God." Out of the 45 activists who arrived on Saturday, nine will remain in Gaza to do long-term monitoring, the movement said. The Free Gaza Movement plans to return to Gaza with another delegation in the near future and to ask the United Nations, the Arab League and other international organizations to organize similar sea-based operations. Israeli defense officials said Thursday that there was no set policy on how Israel would react in the event that another ship coming from international waters tries to enter Gaza. Officials said that as of now, Israel knows of no plans for other boats to set sail for Gaza, and that if other boats did try to enter, Israel would decide how to handle the situation on a case-by-case basis. "Each case will be examined individually," one official said. In Thursday's case, the official said Israel had been aware of who was on board the ships - including the identity of the Palestinians - and had not interfered since none of the passengers posed a security risk. "None of the passengers was dangerous to Israel, and they were not coming into Israel, so there was no reason to stop them," the official said. "If a boat, however, tried to take wanted Hamas terrorists out of Gaza, that would be a different story." Government officials said the protesters were likely to face problems in Cyprus, which will now have to decide whether to allow in the Palestinians.