Sunk: the Gaza flotilla stays in Greece

Flotilla vanishes without trace... well, almost

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 7, 2011

The second flotilla to Gaza seems to have ended up as two small boats.

Meanwhile, security forces in Israel are preparing for an "airlift" of hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists planning to land at Ben-Gurion Airport this weekend.

On Wednesday, some activists had already landed and five were arrested and deported, while others slipped through the security net.

After the Greek coastguard blocked two boats from leaving for Gaza early in the week, the Greek Civil Defence Ministry announced that it was
prohibiting all ships on the flotilla from sailing.

The first boat, the American-owned Audacity of Hope, was stopped by coast guards after leaving a port in Crete, and the captain was arrested for
illegally setting sail.

On Monday, the Canadian ship Tahrir tried to evade the coastguard and was also stopped. The Greek government offered to deliver, via an Israeli or Egyptian port, the supplies that the activists had planned to transport to Gaza.

The Greek actions seem to have ended the saga of the second flotilla, which was originally planned to include up to 20 ships and 2000 activists.

It followed the announcement two weeks ago that the Turkish movement IHH, which organised last year's
flotilla, would not be participating this time.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the Karama, a small French boat with nine activists on board, had managed to evade the coastguard and was sailing towards Gaza, and on Wednesday it emerged that another ship, the Juliano, had also successfully set sail.

The IDF said that the Israeli Navy was tracking the boats and that, if they persisted in trying to reach Gaza, they would be stopped.

A senior naval officer said this week that "we are still on high alert but it does not seem that there will be any clash at sea now".

Part of the force that had prepared for the flotilla operation has already been demobilised and many reservists who had been called up for the occasion have been discharged.

Last Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanked international leaders who had helped prevent the sailing of the flotilla, singling out for mention "my friend" Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, in a speech at the Air Force Academy. Left-wing activists protested this week in Athens against the Greek government's decision and said that it was a result of Israeli pressure and the financial crisis in Greece.

Although no British ship joined the ill-fated flotilla from Athens to Gaza, this week activists in the UK have been lobbying Prime Minister David Cameron and the Greek ambassador to "guarantee their safe passage".

Six pro-Palestinian activists from the Free Gaza Movement handed in a letter at the gates of 10 Downing Street, which was taken by security guards and forwarded to the Petitions Office.

The letter, which was authored by Guardian journalist Ewa Jasiewicz, asked Mr Cameron to "notify the Israeli government unequivocally that it should not interfere with the upcoming flotilla" and to "guarantee the rights of UK citizens and other civilians safe passage on the high seas".

Later, protesters attempted to deliver a letter to the Greek ambassador to the UK Aristidis Sandis, to demand the ships be allowed to leave Athens, signed by groups including Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al Aqsa and Action Palestine.

Meanwhile, hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists are planning to land
in Israel today as part of an event organised by 45 European and Palestinian groups.

The Foreign Ministry has asked the countries that the activists will be flying from to warn them that they are liable for expulsion. Hundreds of policemen have been deployed at Ben-Gurion Airport. Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said: "Those hooligans who will try to break the law and disrupt public order will not be allowed to enter Israel and will be deported back to their countries."

The organisers of "Welcome to Palestine" denied Israeli claims that they are planning any provocation or demonstrations at the airport and are merely planning to visit Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank. "In order to go to Bethlehem, we have no other choice than first landing at Tel Aviv airport, since the only Palestinian airport was destroyed by Israel
in the early 2000s," said organiser
Olivia Zemor.

Last updated: 1:09pm, July 7 2011