First ship in Gaza-bound flotilla sets sail from Crete

‘So long Gaza, we are coming,’ writes Arab MK aboard Marianne of Gothenburg, after unspecified delays hold up convoy

Palestinians hold their national flag during a rally to show support for activists aboard a flotilla heading for Gaza in a fresh bid to break Israel's blockade of the territory, in Gaza City, June 24, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians hold their national flag during a rally to show support for activists aboard a flotilla heading for Gaza in a fresh bid to break Israel's blockade of the territory, in Gaza City, June 24, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The ship leading a Gaza-bound flotilla that aims to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Hamas-held enclave reportedly left the Greek isle of Crete early Friday morning, after unspecified delays.

An Israeli-born, pro-Palestinian activist on board the Swedish Marianne of Gothenburg confirmed to the Walla news website that the boat had departed, adding that the other four vessels that make up the flotilla were expected to follow suit shortly. Dror Feiler said the flotilla would reach Gaza by Sunday or Monday.

According to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency, the flotilla set sail on Friday carrying 70 people, including Arab MK Basel Ghattas and a former Tunisian president, as well as humanitarian supplies and solar panels.

“At long last, we are on the Marianne. After hardships that will yet be discussed, we are sailing to Gaza,” wrote Ghattas on his Facebook page in Hebrew early Friday.

“Here we go, the Marrianne [sic] with us on it is in it’s final sailing part toward Gaza. Our strong determination is to get to our destination despite the high aggressive sea waves and Nathanihu [sic] threats to stop us. So long Gaza, we are coming,” Ghattas added in English.

On Thursday, Feiler claimed that anonymous individuals had sabotaged one of the boats trying to break Israel’s naval blockade. He told a Nazareth-based radio station that “unknown hands” had tampered with one of the boats making its way to the Strip, damaging it.

Freedom Flotilla member Dror Feiler, center, speaks during a press conference on August 12, 2014, in Istanbul (AFP/BULENT KILIC)
Flotilla member Dror Feiler (center), speaks during a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 12, 2014. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

“The anonymous [saboteurs] did work that can only be done by professionals,” he told Radio al-Shams.

Feiler said that were the boat to have set sail without discovering the damage, it might have gotten stuck at sea.

“Someone came to sabotage the boat and damaged the propellers, just as they did in 2011,” he said, referring to a previous Gaza flotilla. “There are dark forces trying to stop us in all sorts of ways. It’s someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Feiler was one of at least three Israelis aboard the flotilla, including Ghattas.

Other reports indicated that the flotilla was held back due to difficult weather conditions.

Ghattas told Channel 2 Thursday that he had assured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before his departure that the ships bore no weapons, firearms or otherwise — a key issue in Israel’s naval blockade.

He dismissed criticism of the flotilla as a “foolish attempt” by right-wing politicians to impugn “not only Arab representation in the Knesset, but all Arabs as citizens of the State of Israel.”

Zohar Regev, another left-wing Israeli activist, told Channel 2 that she doesn’t think the Israeli government wants more pictures like those from the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, when Israeli forces boarded a Gaza-bound ship sparking a melee that left nine Turkish activists dead.

“If there is some kind of violent confrontation, it won’t come from our side,” she said.

The activists say the vessels are carrying a cargo of solar panels and medical supplies for Gaza residents, who are still recovering from last summer’s conflict, and are slated to reach the Strip in the coming days, unless they are intercepted.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 when the Islamist Hamas group took control of the Strip in a bloody coup, ousting the Palestinian Authority leadership.

Both countries say the blockade is meant to prevent Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of Israel, from importing weaponry into Gaza.

The Israel Defense Forces has, in recent years, intercepted a number of civilian ships carrying weapons headed for Gaza. It has also turned away attempts by activists to break the blockade.

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