Gaza-bound French yacht turns back after brief sail

Arab-Israel Relations Materials 5 July 2011 18:10 (UTC +04:00)
A French yacht participating in a flotilla hoping to break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip
Gaza-bound French yacht turns back after brief sail

A French yacht participating in a flotilla hoping to break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip left a port near Athens early Tuesday morning, bound for the salient, but turned back after several hours, Israel Radio reported.

The report quoted flotilla activists as saying those on board the Dignite-Al Karama did not want to be the only ones sailing to the Strip, after the other boats were prevented from doing so by the Greek coast guard, making the departure purely a symbolic act, dpa reported

However, earlier in the day, the ship's occupants had struck a more defiant tone.

The organizers of the A French Boat for Gaza campaign said in a post on the campaign's website that "late in the night, the French boat reached international waters. It is heading now towards Gaza."

"The Israeli blockade, which thanks to the Greek government has been extended to the gates of the European Union, has been broken," it proclaimed.

The Dignite-Al Karama is one of two French boats in the flotilla.

The Greek coast guard has intercepted many of the 10 ships in the flotilla which have tried to set sail for Gaza from Greece, following a ban on departures towards Gaza by the Athens government last week. The flotilla vessels are carrying medicine and more than 350 activists from 22 countries.

Activists taking part in the international flotilla say they will still try to leave Greek ports despite repeated delays that activists blame on Israeli sabotage.

A group of 21 Spanish activists occupied their country's embassy in Athens Tuesday, demanding that an international flotilla be allowed to leave Greece for the Gaza Strip.

The activists are from the Spanish boat Gernika, which has been docked on the southern Mediterranean of Crete for the past few weeks, awaiting an opportunity to sail as part of a flotilla that aims to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

They insist they will continue to occupy the premises of the embassy until the Spanish government asks Greek authorities to allow them to sail to Gaza.

In the last week, two Canadians and an Australian have been detained for trying to get their boat past the Greek blockade. An American also faces charges for a similar incident last week.

Israel imposed its blockade on the Strip in 2006, after Palestinian militants launched a cross-border raid in which an Israeli soldier was snatched. The blockade was tightened a year later after the Islamist Hamas movement seized full control of the salient.

Although Israel has significantly eased the blockade, the naval embargo remains in force, as Israel tries to prevent weapons coming in form the sea. Exports from the enclave are still banned.

An attempt one year ago by a six-ship flotilla to breech the blockade saw nine activists on board one of the vessels killed, after Israeli naval commandos intercepted the fleet