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17th Apr 2021

MEPs to go on Gaza boats despite risks

  • Gaza flotilla in 2010: Israeli commandos killed nine people, but an internal enquiry said they did nothing wrong (Photo: freegazaorg)

At least two MEPs plan to put their personal safety at risk by going on boats in a new flotilla to break Israel's maritime blockade on Gaza.

Flotilla organiser Manuel Tapial told press at the EU parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday (10 May) that Willy Meyer, a left-wing Spanish euro-deputy, and Paul Murphy, a left-wing Irish member, will be on two of the around 15 boats that plan to sail from various European locations in June.

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"Those who will be there, who don't hold public office, who don't have a high profile, need these people to protect their lives," he said.

French green MEP Nicole Kill-Nielsen indicated she will enter Gaza via Egypt as part of another group of euro-parliamentarians to meet the boats if they make it that far.

Israeli commandos last year killed nine people and injured 52 in an operation to stop a similar project.

Speaking in a rival press briefing in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Israel's ambassador to the EU, Ran Curiel, said Israel has to control access to Gaza because militants continue to shoot rockets from the strip.

"I cannot say hypothetically that they [flotilla participants] will endanger their lives. What I can say is that Israel will do everything in order to protect its citizens and we will do it within international law," he said.

A British Conservative Party MEP, Charles Tannock, sitting alongside Curiel, came to close to endorsing Israeli military action. "People taking part in this exercise are playing with fire and endangering civilian lives in doing so," he noted.

Speaking to EUobserver earlier this month, an Israeli diplomat said Israel is within its rights to again send in commandos, citing the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, a 1994 international agreement, and the Turkel Commission, an internal Israeli enquiry, which exonerated its soldiers over the killings.

Pro-flotilla MEPs on Tuesday invited EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to come and inspect the cargo - schoolbooks, construction materials and medical equipment - before the ships embark.

Italian Liberal deputy Niccolo Rinaldi said: "It is amazing to see how this operation is being demonised ... It is being pictured as a sort of provocative if not terrorist activity, which is unacceptable for what is a major humanitarian and non-violent operation."

For his part, Curiel said that one of the NGOs behind the project, the Turkish group IHH, is listed as a terrorist entity in Germany, the Netherlands and the US. He added that the UK and Spain are against the operation, as well as all "the major political groups" in the EU assembly.

For her part, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speaking in Strasbourg on Wednesday criticised the initiative. She said living conditions in Gaza are "awful" due to the Israeli blockade, but added: "I don't consider a flotilla to be the right response."

Israel's Curiel on Tuesday also spoke out on the recent unity government pact between Palestinian militants Hamas, who control Gaza and who advocate armed resistance against Israel, and the more moderate Fatah movement in the West Bank.

He said "the agreement may bring calm in Gaza and we welcome that." But he added that Israel cannot work with a unity government "contaminated with elements that do not want to recognise the right of Israel to exist."

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