US citizens to join 12-ship flotilla to Gaza Strip
Organizers of a US boat that will join a humanitarian flotilla trying to break the Israeli sea blockade of the Gaza Strip said Monday they were only allowed to bring letters of friendship to Palestinians with them under US law, DPA reported.
A total of 36 US citizens and four crew members will assemble in Athens in coming days to board the US-flagged boat, The Audacity of Hope, and then join other ships in the high seas before sailing toward Gaza, possibly by the end of the week.
The organizers said the US government prohibitedthem from bringing humanitarian and medical assistance to Gaza, which is headed by Hamas.
Thus they said they will carry 3,000 letters to the Palestinians, but other ships may carry relief supplies.
The UN is opposed to the flotilla and has called on organizers to use land routes to bring relief to the Palestinians in order to avoid any confrontation with Israel.
The name of the US boat, The Audacity of Hope, is taken from President Barack Obama's second book.
The organizers expect the flotilla to face the challenge of the Israeli Defence Forces, which in May, 2010 stopped a three-ship fleet that attempted to break the blockade. A clash aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara resulted in nine people aboard the ship killed by Israeli commandos.
Leslie Cagan, the US boat organizer, called for Israel to end the blockade and for the US government "to play a positive role" in the removal of the blockade, which Israel said was necessary to prevent arms smuggling by Hamas.
"We are on a peace mission," Cagan told a news conference announcing the US participation in the flotilla. "We are unarmed, on a mission that is unambiguous and clear."
Robert Naiman, the policy director of Just Foreign Policy, a private think tank who will be aboard the US boat said he and other US participants want to demonstrate their personal freedom and as peace activists.
"We're sailing to break the blockade on Gaza, which has subjected 1.6 million people to collective punishment in violation of international humanitarian law, as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Oxfam have stated," said Naiman said, who is a Jewish American from Urbana, Illinois.
The organizers said their boat will join the 12-ship flotilla and if logistics permit, it will sail to Gaza later this week. They said other countries taking part the flotilla include ships from Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Britain, France, Greece and Norway.
The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara has decided not to join the flotilla this time.