Boat to Gaza invites int’l inspection amid delays

Published today (updated) 30/06/2011 10:11

A Palestinian boy holds a “Free Gaza” sign during a protest in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on May 28, 2010. [MaanImages/Mimmi Nietula]

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Organizers of the US boat preparing to sail to the Gaza Strip said Thursday that they were “ready to sail,” and invited the public to inspect the boat and its crew.

Organizers from an Irish boat also set to sail to Gaza, however, said their ship had been tampered with. Problems with the propeller pushed the departure back to the weekend at the earliest.

“I invite the media to ask us anything, inspect anything, taste our food, look inside our bags” activist and passenger Gale Courey Toensing said on behalf of the passengers in a news statement.

“Our voyage is totally transparent and we have nothing to hide. All we want to do is sail to Gaza with our cargo of letters from Americans to the people of Gaza,” Toensing said, in an attempt to counter further allegations from Israeli officials that boats to Gaza posed a threat to the country’s security.

Organizers called “outrageous” recent allegations that passengers on the flotilla had packed bringing chemicals for militant groups in Gaza.

“There are radical elements on board the American boat who have said they want to kill Israeli soldiers,” said Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitz on Tuesday.

“We also know that one of the boats is carrying dangerous incendiary chemicals that these human rights militants want to use against Israeli soldiers,” she said.

“We are confident that such an inspection will show that our boat is ‘sulfur-free’ and ready to sail,” organizers wrote, re-stating that the ship would carry the personal possessions of the 36 crew members and passengers, as well as some 3,000 letters to Gaza from people in the United States.

The statement from the boat, The Audacity of Hope, revealed the long secret location of the vessel, in the town of Perama, near Athens. The location had been concealed, with organizers saying sabotage attempts had already been made.

A problem with Irish boat the “Saoirse” [Gaelic for freedom], one of 10 vessels trying to leave the Greek port of Piraeus, followed Monday’s news that the propeller on the “Juliano” boat, belonging to Swedish activists, had been cut.

Organizers also revealed that they were waiting for the go-ahead from Greek inspection officials, after a complaint was lodged to the port authority in Athens alleging that the ship was not seaworthy. The statement said the complaint was made by an Israeli group.

An inspection was carried out Monday to verify the claims.

“We have not yet received notification of their findings nor a copy of their report, but we are certain that our boat is up to code,” the statement said.

Initially scheduled to sail on 26 June, the Audacity of Hope and nine other ships from 22 countries including Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain, hope to reach the Gaza City Port in a symbolic challenge to Israel’s years’ long blockade of the Palestinian coastal enclave.

Home to 1.6 million Palestinians, Gaza has been under siege for five years. Israel all but closed its borders with Gaza, preventing movement of people and goods between the Strip and the West Bank, cutting off families, friends and trade. Pressure on Egypt also kept closed the Rafah crossing Gaza shared with the country to the south, though the ouster of its former President Hosni Mubarak allowed some Palestinians to travel.

A single commercial crossing remains open, strictly monitored by Israel, and solely for the import of what has risen in the last year to what UN observers say is 40 percent of pre-siege levels of goods. Imports remain banned.

Fishing limits are enforced three nautical miles off the Gaza coast by Israeli naval ships, firing on fishermen who venture out of the zone, and all but stiffing the fish market.

Since August 2008 ships have attempted to break the blockade by sea. Three voyages were successful, but nearly ten others were prevented from reaching Gaza by Israel’s military and naval forces. In Mary 2010, a fleet of six ships was apprehended in international waters by Israeli commandos, who shot nine passengers in an attempt to gain control of the largest vessel.

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