Friday, August 29, 2008

Peace ships break through Israel's blockade of Gaza

The Age The Age

Andra Jackson August 25, 2008

TWO peace ships organized by a Melbourne man, Michael Shaik, have broken through Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The ships, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty, set out from Cyprus on Friday with dozens of human rights activists from around the world, carrying children's hearing aids to the Palestinian territory.

Two years of planning went into running the blockade after Mr Shaik came up with the idea of challenging Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement and access to basic services.

Israel, with US backing and Egyptian help, has controlled entry and exit from Gaza since its withdrawal in 2005, but virtually sealed off its 1.5 million people last summer after the militant Islamists Hamas put down a Fatah coup attempt.

Those on the Greek-flagged ships included Eliza Ernshire, 32, of Newcastle, NSW, Israeli human rights activist Jeff Halper and journalist Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British prime minister and current Middle East envoy Tony Blair.

"We will surely try to bring the boats back again," activist Huwaida Arraf said. "The goal is to open a route between Cyprus and Gaza. People here are just ecstatic to see that someone cares."

At one stage on the 30-hour trip the navigation and communications systems on both ships failed. Some activists accused Israel of jamming the systems, which Israel denied.

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Israel warns activists against breaking Gaza blockade

Published: August 19, 2008 By MIDDLE EAST TIMES

ATHENS (AFP) Israel has warned a group of pro-Palestinian activists sailing for the Gaza Strip to break a year-long blockade to steer clear of the territory, the Israeli embassy in Athens said on Tuesday."The area to which you are planning to sail is the subject of an (Israeli Navy) advisory notice which warns all foreign vessels to remain clear of the designated maritime zone," the Israeli foreign ministry said in an open letter to the participants of the Free Gaza Boat Expedition.

"We assume that your intentions are good but, in fact, the result of your action is that you are supporting the regime of a terrorist organisation in Gaza," the ministry said.

Ruled since June 2007 by Hamas, an Islamist movement that is considered a terrorist organisation by the West, the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade for the past year except for humanitarian aid.

But the California-based Free Gaza Movement says Israel's aid supply record is "deplorable".

Formed two years ago, the Free Gaza Movement (www.freegaza.org) is composed of human rights activists, aid workers and journalists.

© 2008 Agence France-Presse  More..