International activists plan to challenge Israel's Gaza blockade

Israel Materials 28 July 2008 17:45 (UTC +04:00)

Palestinians and international activists plan to challenge Israeli's blockade of the Gaza Strip by navigating a small sailing ship into the Israeli-controlled waters off the Gaza Strip, organizers said Monday.

The vessel is to set sail for Gaza from Cyprus on August 5, according to a statement by the US-based Free Gaza Movement, which is organizing the action along with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the US-based Free Gaza Movement, reported dpa.

The activists expect to confront Israeli naval patrol boats when they reach Gaza waters.

If Israeli naval forces attempted to prevent the vessel from proceeding to Gaza waters, "it won't turn back," Jamal al-Khodari, the chief of the Gaza-based Popular Committee Against the Seige said Monday.

He said the vessel, which bears the name SS Free Gaza, would have 60 activists from around the world, among them Palestinians and Israelis, on board, including a Holocaust survivor and a "survivor" of the Nakba, the Palestinian term for the 1948 founding of the State of Israel that translates as "catastrophe."

The boat will also be stocked with humanitarian aid and medical supplies for residents including children in Gaza. Another small vessel, carrying members of the international media, more activists and doctors, would sail alongside it, al-Khodari added.

Another ten large boats are to sail from Gaza to receive the Free Gaza, with hundreds of Gazans also expected to gather at Gaza beaches to greet them.

The activists argue that legally nothing stops them from passing through international waters, various sea boundaries and the 11.1- kilometre "fishing limit" imposed by Israel in 2006. Israel, they note, pulled out from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and "should no longer" control the salient's airspace and territorial waters.

Israel has since the pullout imposed a stringent economic blockade on the coastal salient, responding to ongoing rocket attacks from the area at its southern towns and villages. It further tightened the blockade after the June 2007 Gaza takeover by Hamas, which witnessed an increase in the rocket attacks, allowing in only basic humanitarian goods and medical supplies. The blockade has been gradually eased since an Egyptian-mediated truce took effect on June 19.