One boat from Gaza-bound flotilla expected to reach coastline in next two days
Israeli army says it is gathering intelligence and preparing to stop any boats.
By Jack Khoury and Gili Cohen, Haaretz (Israeli daily newspaper), 28 June 2015
The organizers of an international flotilla looking to break the maritime blockade of Gaza predicted that one of its boats will reach the Gaza coastline Sunday evening or Monday morning.
Swedish vessel the Marianne is currently in international waters heading toward Gaza, although it has been delayed due to the weather and adverse conditions at sea. The Marianne is a small fishing vessel that set sail from Sweden a month and a half ago. It has stayed away from ports during its journey, but is now thought to be close to Crete.
Haaretz has learned that two boats in the flotilla that left a Greek port on Friday were forced to return to port after the Greek authorities ordered them to turn back. It is unclear whether the vessels in the flotilla will attempt to approach Gaza together or one by one, in the knowledge that Israel will block their approach.
Due to the boats’ problems departing from Greece and due to the alleged sabotage of one of boat – as claimed by Israeli-born, pro-Palestinian Swedish activist Dror Feiler – it was decided on Friday evening to transfer three passengers to the Marianne on a small boat. The three were MK Basel Ghattas; Ohad Hemo, the Palestinian affairs correspondent for Channel 2 TV; and former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. They left a Greek port on a small boat, bound for Crete.
On Saturday, the flotilla organizers called on the Tunisian government to act at the United Nations and with the international community, in order to safeguard the well-being of Marzouki and the other flotilla participants.
Dr. Mazen Kahel, the head of the European campaign to break the blockade, confirmed that the Marianne is currently in international waters. He said that nothing can stop it from sailing to Gaza. Kahel also confirmed that the former Tunisian president is on board, along with 20 other activists and crew members.
“The intent is to reach the Gaza coast despite all the difficulties, in order to deliver a message that essentially implies a victory for humanity, calling on the world to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip, in which more than a million and a half people are contending with a slow death,” said Kahel.
Kahel added that the organizers are prepared for all possible scenarios, but would avoid any violent acts or confrontations with Israeli soldiers if and when they storm the boats. He said the campaign organizers had written to members of the U.S. Congress in an appeal to support the lifting of the siege and to guarantee the safety of the flotilla’s participants, since it was a humanitarian mission.
Gaza is already getting ready to greet the boats, with many children waiting by the shore with lights that signify the month of Ramadan.
The flotilla organizers said Israel was closely watching their flotilla by air and sea, and by monitoring communications with the boat. As a result, the organizers were offering very little precise information or divulging any facts about coordination between the boats. The Israel Defense Forces said it was preparing to stop the flotilla and that it was gathering intelligence. The IDF spokesman refused to go into more detail.