26th May 2020

Gaza flotilla boats preparing to confront Greek coastguard

Flotilla members are preparing to defy a Greek order not to sail to Gaza, as Athens says the project would threaten regional stability.

Armed and masked Greek soldiers already stopped and detained the US boat, The Audacity of Hope, when it left the port of Perama on Friday (1 July) on grounds that the vessel was not seaworthy.

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  • Delavakauros: 'this constitutes a threat to themselves and a potential escalation in the area' (Photo: John D. Carnessiotis, Athens, Greece)

The Greek authorities later the same day issued a blanket order for all nine flotilla boats not to sail and offered to deliver the humanitarian supplies to Gaza themselves together with Israeli help. The Quartet - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - on Saturday also published a communique urging the boats to deliver their cargo through "established channels."

Greek foreign ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras told EUobserver the sailing ban was made on the basis of "maritime law, both national and international ... safety mainly, it has to do with the safety of people at sea."

He noted that wider political considerations also played a part: "All the countries in the region are of the view that this constitutes a threat to themselves and a potential escalation in the area which is going through a very sensitive time right now."

He acknowledged that talks with Israel also had a role in the decision, after Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman over the weekend claimed the clampdown as a diplomatic victory. "We have been in contact with everyone, we certainly know the Israeli position," Delavekouras said.

Lieberman had told Israel's Army Radio "things do not just happen on their own."

He also made fun of flotilla organisers' claims that Israeli agents had sabotaged some of the vessels in the run-up to the weekend, saying: "The activists are trying to blame someone for their failure – no doubt they have watched too many James Bond films."

For their part, the flotilla campaigners remained defiant on Sunday.

They rejected the Greek offer to deliver aid saying this would not fulfill the political objective of the project, which is to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

A spokeswoman for the project said the boats will sail on Monday, rendezvous at sea on Tuesday and aim to reach Gaza by Thursday.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic MP who is among the 300-or-so activists collected in Greece for the mission, said in a statement she will "call upon the foreign affairs minister in Greece to show some courage, to stand up against foreign powers - in this case Israel." She added: "It is hard to imagine that the Israel government has managed to get the Greek government do their dirty work for them in Greek waters."

Eight of the 51 people due to sail on Audacity of Hope gave begun a hunger strike to protest against the Greek actions.

Some left-wing Greek MPs, such as Mihail Krisotakis, also criticised the government. "The Greek government is obeying the orders of Israel and that is why the ship is anchored here. Were Greece a genuine democracy, the ship would have already set sail," he told Israeli daily Haaretz after visiting the moored boats.

In a variation of the attempt to break the sea-blockade on Gaza, some 700 pro-Palestinian activists have said they plan to fly to Israel's Ben Gurion airport on 8 July. The move is designed to disrupt flights as a form of civil disobedience, with some participants to try to get to Gaza on foot afterward.

Israeli commandos last year shot and killed nine flotilla members and briefly arrested all those on board.

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Italy has said the massive falling out between Turkey and Israel could spell trouble in terms of Middle East stability. But some EU countries are more sanguine about the dispute.

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