Flotilla crew ‘welcomes’ UN concern, will still sail

Published May 29, 2011

An Israeli navy vessel patrolling the waters near Haifa in northern Israel on 13 July 2006. [MaanImages/Magnus Johansson]

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A statement from The Free Gaza movement welcomed Sunday a call from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging Israel to end its blockade on Gaza, but responded to his call on world nations to stop aid ships by insisting the mission would go ahead as planned.

“We are not engaged in illegal activity in the in the Mediterranean; it is Israel’s blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians that is illegal,” a statement from organizers read.

Through a spokesperson on Friday, Ban called “on all governments” in the region to use to their influence to push against the new flotilla of ships expected to try to break Israel’s continued blockade on Gaza.

The secretary general was said to be “following with concern media reports of potential flotillas to Gaza,” said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

“As head of the United Nations, [Ban] knows that the UN High Commission for Human Rights produced a report that identified the blockade of Gaza as collective punishment and a war crime,” the lawyer for the Free Gaza flotilla reminded in the organization’s statement.

“We would remind the Secretary-General that the flotilla violates no international laws or laws of the sea and so an outright ban on our sailing to Gaza is essentially a statement against the rights of the Palestinian people to control their own ports, and lives,” it continued.

“We do not sail just to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Palestinians don’t want humanitarian aid, they want the right to trade and have open borders and come in and out of their territory without walls and gunboats and snipers shooting at them,” Huwaida Arraf, chair of Free Gaza added.

Israel has maintained a sea blockade on Gaza since 2006, with naval ships constantly patrolling what has been reduced to an area three nautical miles from the shoreline.

Several attempts have been made to break the blockade, which also keeps Gaza’s port sealed from any outside traffic, since the first ship sailed from Cyprus in 2009.

The first three voyages were successful, and landed to much fanfare in Gaza City throughout 2008. Israel’s 2008-9 offensive targeting the Gaza Strip marked a turning point in the flotilla project, with ten ships turned back, rammed, damaged or seized at sea in the past two and a half years.

Last week a Malaysian ship was stopped and turned around, and in May 2010, Israeli forces boarded a boat in the last Free Gaza flotilla consisting of six ships. The largest boat, the Mavi Marmara, resisted the seizure in international waters, and Israeli commandos descending from helicopters before dawn shot and killed nine passengers.


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