A few days after the UNRWA Gaza Director John Ging called for relief ships to be sent to Gaza, a report came from London that the MV Rachel Corrie, a 1200-ton cargo ship, part of an eight-vessel Freedom Flotilla, set sail from Ireland on its way to the Mediterranean Sea. There, the Rachel Corrie will be joined by ships from Turkey and Greece and other countries, and then sail to Gaza. A Swedish ship may also join in.

Here is what the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, is all about:

Although small boats to Gaza have been turned back in the past, the ship sponsored by the IHH, the world wide Turkish humanitarian organization, will fly the Turkish flag, apparently with the permission of Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has the potential for creating an international incident. Israel has already indicated an intention to stop the flotilla.

An earlier press release read:

MS Rachel Corrie, Ireland
[London, UK – 5 May, 2010] John Ging, the Director of Operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza, has called upon the international community to break the siege on the Gaza Strip by sending ships loaded with desperately needed supplies to the beleaguered territory. “We believe that Israel will not intercept these vessels because the sea is open, and human rights organizations have been successful in similar previous operations proving that breaking the siege of Gaza is possible.”

This month the Freedom Flotilla plans to do just that and we call upon others to join us.

Turkish cargo ship, flying Turkish flag
Later this month the Freedom Flotilla, consisting of three cargo ships and five passenger boats, will set sail to Gaza, in the biggest internationally coordinated effort to directly challenge Israeli’s ongoing occupation, aggression, and violence against the Palestinian people. The ships are being readied in Greece, Ireland and Turkey to carry 5000 tons of reconstruction materials, school supplies, and medical equipment, as well as 600 passengers from over 40 countries.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is comprised of: Free Gaza Movement (FG), European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG), Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH or The Foundation For Human Rights And Freedoms And Humanitarian Relief ), Ship to Gaza Greece, Ship to Gaza Sweden, and the International Committee to Lift the Siege on Gaza, with hundreds of groups and organizations around the world supporting the effort.

Thus far the Gaza flotilla of ships, especially the involvement of Turkey’s government, has not been covered by the Western or European press.

Earlier Bulent Yildirim, President of the IHH reported that “Israel has been trying to use our West Bank representative against us by keeping him under arrest. Israel is trying to intertwine the two issues, Izzet Sahin’s arrest and the flotilla project. They might be thinking that they can make us step back. Everyone should know that we will not step back. Those aid ships shall embark on their journey to Palestine once the time comes.”

During a meeting between the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza – Ship to Gaza’s coalition partner, Mr. Erdogan expressed his support for “breaking the oppressive blockade of Gaza”, which is a top priority for Turkey. The Turkish relief ship will carry the Turkish flag, meaning that an Israeli attack will essentially have international impact. The waters off Gaza are international and not Israeli waters.

The Turkish IHH is banned in Israel and as part of its crackdown on peace activists in the West Bank and (in Israel itself) arrested Izzet Sahin, the IHH representative in Ramallah.

According to several Israeli and Palestinian media, Israel will not hesitate to use violence to prevent the Freedom Flotilla from reaching Gaza. Ship to Gaza – Sweden has asked for a meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Carl Bildt, to see how Sweden and the EU intend to protect the humanitarian, peaceful and completely legal action.

According to Israeli TV2,

….the Israeli government and military will not allow Ship to Gaza and the Freedom Flotilla convoy to get to Gaza as planned, expected to reach the coast at the end of this month with its cargo of much needed material for reconstruction. According to a news article posted on their webpage, the Israeli have been given clear orders to prevent the solidarity convoy to reach Gaza, even it would take military violence. The Israeli Air Force have been given similar instructions: the convoy have to be stopped, with violence if needed, and the participants sent back to their respective countries.

It was also reported that Israel is engaged in military exercises to prevent the Freedom Fleet (translated from Greek)

Thursday, 13th May 2010

The naval forces of Israel said to be trained to understand eight ships scheduled to enter the Gaza Strip on May 24 from Europe, Arabic-speaking media reported on Wednesday. “Approximately half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in a company approved by the Cabinet. The [Israeli] Defense Minister Ehud Barak will oversee the company,” said the Arabic-speaking Israeli official satellite TV station Al-Khoury.

Israeli security source told Ma’an that the authorities would prevent the arrival of ships “at any price.” The Liberty Fleet is scheduled to leave the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey. The Free Gaza campaign, said that the Israeli authorities informed that the fleets will be prevented to enter Gaza.

Although the Freedom Flotilla has thus far been ignored by the press, we may soon see wider coverage. Among the 500 plus passengers involved in effort are dignitaries from various European governments.

Latest information about the flotillas can be obtained from any of these links:

Free Gaza Movement – Greta Berlin – +33607374512; www.freegaza.org
ECESG – Mazen Kahel – +33 1 46 81 12 92; www.savegaza.eu
IHH – Ahmet Emin Dag – +90 530 341 1934; www.ihh.org.tr
Ship to Gaza / Greece – Vangelis Pissias – +30 697 200 9339; www.shiptogaza.gr
Ship to Gaza / Sweden – Dror Feiler – +46702855777; www.shiptogaza.se

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