New flotilla set to leave Palermo in bid to break blockade on Gaza
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New flotilla set to leave Palermo in bid to break blockade on Gaza

2 months after embarking from Denmark, four boats carrying some 40 activists prepare for final 10-day leg

A ship prepares to set sail for Gaza as part of an attempt to bust the blockade on the territory, May 22, 2018 (Courtesy: International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza)
A ship prepares to set sail for Gaza as part of an attempt to bust the blockade on the territory, May 22, 2018 (Courtesy: International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza)

A new flotilla of ships intent on breaking Israel’s 10-year blockade of the Gaza Strip was due to set sail early this week from the Italian port of Palermo, two months after it first set off from Copenhagen in Denmark.

The flotilla, which includes some 40 activists on board, has been planned by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella of organizations aiming to end the closure.

Among those on board are Prof. Ismail Nazari, chairman of Malaysia’s boycott Israel campaign; Charlie Andreason of Sweden, who spent time in Israeli detention for his role on the Marianne, a Swedish-flagged trawler leading a flotilla of boats in June 2015; Spanish Jewish activist Zohar Shamir Chamberlain; and Heather Milton-Lightening, an activist for indigenous Canadians.

Having stopped in 15 European ports since setting off on March 22, the four boats making up the “Freedom Flotilla” were expected to depart for the final 10-day leg to the Gaza coast this weekend but were delayed “a day or two” due to repair work needed on two of the vessels, according to organizers.

#breakthegazaseige #freedomflotilla #freepalestine and #boycottisrael #BDS

Posted by International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza on Saturday, 21 July 2018

Before departing, the flotilla was welcomed by the mayor of the southern Italian town of Palermo, who renamed a section of the port in honor of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mayor Leoluca Orlando made the announcement last week after the arrival of the flotilla, the New Matilda reported. New Matilda editor Chris Graham is on one of the flotilla boats.

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since the Hamas terror group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip. Hamas, an Islamist terror group, seeks to destroy Israel.

Critics point to worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza and say the blockade amounts to collective punishment of the two million Palestinians living there. There have been many reports that the coastal strip is “on the verge of collapsing,” and could plunge into a new round of fighting with Israel if conditions do not improve.

Egypt, too, has kept its Gaza border crossing largely closed during several years of sour relations with Hamas.

Many attempts have been made to draw attention to the Palestinian cause using blockade-busting flotillas. From 2008 through 2016, international activists have sailed 31 boats to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza.

In May, Israel’s Navy stopped a boat carrying 17 Palestinians from Gaza that attempted to breach the maritime blockade of the coastal strip. It was the first public attempt to break out of the blockade and not into it.

Passengers on the deck of the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010 (IDF Spokesperson’s Office/ Flash 90)

The attempt was timed to mark eight years since the Mavi Marmara, a boat owned by a Turkish group, sought to break the blockade and was boarded by Israeli troops. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the ensuing melee between IDF soldiers and armed protesters.

The boarding of the Al-Hurriyah in 2010 took place in the midst of an extensive exchange between Palestinian terrorist groups and the Israeli military, in which some 200 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza into Israel, and the IDF struck dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip in retaliation.

JTA contributed to this report.

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