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Aid convoy sets off for Gaza,Israel`s navy will have its work cut out

Aljazeera
May 23, 2010
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/05/2010522133016818451.html


The biggest attempt by international aid groups to break the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip has gotten underway.

Nine ships under the banner, Freedom Flotilla, began their journey to Gaza on Saturday, despite warnings from Israel that they will be stopped for `breaching Israeli law`.

The vessels are carrying 5,000 tonnes of reconstruction materials, school supplies and medical equipment.

The biggest of the nine ships set off from Istanbul, Turkey, heading to the south western city of Antalya where two other Turkish ships will be waiting to join the convoy.

The three ships will then travel to the waters off Athens and Crete to rendezvous with the other six, before making the four-day journey to Gaza.

`Emotional issue`

Al Jazeera`s Anita McNaught, reporting from Istanbul, said Turkey has high hopes for the flotilla as Gaza is an issue close to their hearts.
in depth


`It has been a very emotional evening in Istanbul. The issue of Gaza moves Turks more than any other single issue,` McNaught said.

`It has severely coloured the government`s relationship with Israel and many Turks feel a community spirit and sense of responsibility for the situation in Gaza.`

Mohammad Sawalha, the vice president of the international committee to break the siege of Gaza, one of the organisers of the mission, told Al Jazeera that a global movement, made up of people who want to send the message that the situation in Gaza is unacceptable, was growing.

`We are trying to send a message to everybody that the situation in Gaza will not go on,` Sawalha said.

`No one can accept what is going on now in Gaza - preventing people from having the food and medicine they need. This is a crime.`

The convoy is from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and is comprised of 800 people from 50 nationalities. It is made up of three cargo ships and five passengers boats.

Israeli objection

A senior Israeli official has warned the activists that their flotilla of cargo ships and passenger boats will be stopped from entering Gaza.

Naor Gilon, a deputy director general at the foreign ministry, said the action would be a `provocation and breach of Israeli law`.

A statement from Israel`s foreign ministry said it had `no intention of allowing the flotilla into Gaza` but has not elaborated on what measures could be used to stop them.

Representatives from six organisations, including the European Campaign to End the Siege in Gaza (EGESG), said they were determined to enter the area regardless of pressure from Israel.

`Israel should not be under any illusion whatsoever that their threats or intimidation will stop us or even that their violence against us will stop us,` Huwaida Arraf, from the Free Gaza Movement, said.

Kahel Mazen, from EGESG, added: `If they [the Israelis] choose to resort to destruction and death, our mission is to try to open a window of hope for the people of Gaza.`

Israel says the blockade aims to prevent Hamas, the political movement that controls Gaza, from acquiring weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes.

For the majority of Gaza`s population of 1.5 million people, the result has been impoverished living conditions.

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By Jamal Elshayyal in
Al Jazeera
May 22nd, 2010
http://blogs.aljazeera.net/middle-east/2010/05/22/israels-navy-will-have-its-work-cut-out


If fleet of humanitarians reaches Gaza successfully, it could set new precedent for others to challenge Israel`s blockade.

Ten thousand tons of cargo, 800 passengers, 50 nationalities, nine vessels - one aim - to break the siege on Gaza.

That`s the simple math behind the Freedom Flotilla as its lead vessel was unveiled on Saturday in Istanbul.

At a rally held to bid the ship farewell, organisers challenged Israel`s insistence that its navy would not allow this convoy, of much needed humanitarian aid, to reach the Gaza Strip.

As one organiser put it to me: `These ships will only return empty of their cargo, and with the footprints from Gaza`s sand`.

And from what I`ve seen from the organisers and supporters, I am inclined to believe her.

There are more than 20 charities partaking in one way or another in this flotilla -activists, humanitarians, politicians from the USA to Indonesia. If Israel were to prevent these people from entering or if it were to harm or detain them, Israeli authorities could very well find themselves embroiled in diplomatic disputes with up to 50 countries.

Furthermore, the sheer resolve and work put in by the organisers of this fleet - over a period spanning back to 2008 - really does make it difficult to believe that they would just turn back to where they came from without reaching their desired destination. Aside from the 10,000 tons of aid, organisers say they`re taking up to two months worth of food and supplies for those on board - in case that`s how long it takes for Israel to allow them access.

That`s 800 people, willing to spend two months at sea, away from their friends, families, and livelihood, so they can deliver aid to people they don`t even know.

From Israel`s perspective though, it is understandable why it shouldn`t allow this humanitarian convoy reach Gaza. Doing so could dramatically change the status quo. For starters, it severely questions Israel`s continued and illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip, bringing to light that whilst Israeli troops may have left Gaza, they still control the territory`s, air, land and sea entry points - all but suffocating the coastal territory.

Moreover, if this fleet of humanitarians does reach its destination, it could very well set a precedent for others to challenge Israel`s illegal occupation, and the next thing you know Israel`s navy could be confronted by an armada of charities and humanitarian organisations.

Furthermore, were the Freedom Flotilla to dock in Gaza, Arab governments would be severely embarrassed. After all, if a few hundred people can break the siege and help rebuild Gaza, why can`t some of the wealthiest nations and largest armies?

Ultimately Israel is faced with two questions: does it continue its policy of collective punishment and prevent the flotilla from entering Gaza until Gazans succumb to Israeli demands? Or does it allow the aid to enter and attempt to demonstrate to the world that Israel does in fact respect human rights?

Unfortunately neither of these options bode well for the Israelis, option one for the obvious public outcry that will spill out as a result of 800 people stranded in the water. And although option two would be smarter from a public relations perspective, it would be an indirect admission by Israel that its policy of collective punishment and continued siege is flawed, not to mention illegal.

It seems Israel only has a few days left before it is to make up its mind on what could be one of its toughest tests yet. And it is posing these questions that make the Freedom Flotilla so significant.

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