Greece Stops US Flotilla Ship After it Leaves Port
Organizers behind the US flotilla ship 'Audacity of Hope' said Greek authorities stopped the boat shortly after it left port, Reuters reported Friday.
The Audacity had reportedly left port 15-20 minutes before it was stopped, but was still in Greek territorial waters. Organizers had earlier said the boat would not disembark until early next week.
Following the incident Minister C. Papoutsis of the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection released a statement saying his government had decided to prohibit the departure of ships flying either Greek or foreign flags "to the maritime area" of Gaza.
"By orders of the Hellenic Coast Guard Head Quarters to all local Hellenic Coast Guard Authorities, all appropriate measures are to be taken for the implementation of the said decision," the statement said.
The statement continued "broader maritime area of eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating" in the Gaza flotilla.
Organizers aboard the boat reported a Greek Coast Guard cutter had placed itself dead ahead of their vessel and ordered them back to port.
Flotilla Organizer's Feel Outmaneuvered
It is not presently clear how many of the other boats slated to participate in the flotilla aiming to break Israel's blockade on Gaza had departed their ports of call. Organizers say the boats will meet at a rendezvous point in the Mediterranean before setting sail for Gaza.
The small flotilla, including boats from the United States, France and Canada, was due to leave at least a week ago, but the departure has been constantly put back amidst allegations of sabotage and political moves by Israel aimed at scuttling the effort.
"Israel is doing its very, very best to make sure we don't get out of port," flotilla spokeswoman Greta Berlin said, speaking by telephone from Greece where some of the ships are moored.
"We want to move the boats by July 5 to get to our rendezvous point no later than July 6 or 7 ... We will go with what we have," she added.
One organizer, shocked they had been stopped complained on the group's website, "I never new the Meditteranean was owned by Israel!"
Legal Blockade; Pointless Flotilla
Israel's blockade of Gaza is aimed at stopping weapons from reaching the Hamas terror group who rules the Gaza enclave.
Palestinian Authority officials and their supporters say Israel's blockade is illegal and constitutes collective punishment for Gaza's 1.5 million residents, but preliminary drafts of the UN report on the 2010 Gaza flotilla due July 7 reportedly conclude Israel is acting in accordance with international law.
The IDF COGAT office, which oversees the transfer of aid to Gaza, says the Kerem Shalom checkpoint never reaches full capacity due to a lack of demand.
Gazans themselves do not have a high opinion of the flotilla organizer's efforts, either.
"The flotilla isn't bringing things that reach the man on the street," one Gaza man told a Hebrew-language newspaper Thursday.
"I think they might be bringing medication, but I'm not sure what they are bringing if anything. The only important thing from our perspective is not importing equipment but exporting goods," he added.
Israel Standing Firm; Thanks Allies
Israel has urged foreign governments not to let the second convoy get under way. In a speech Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanked allies, including Greece, for taking steps to block the activists.
"I want to thank many leaders in the world for speaking and acting recently against the provocative flotilla," he said. "Israel has the full right to act against the efforts to facilitate rockets-smuggling to Hamas's terror enclave."
Netanyahu has ordered Israel's navy to interdict the flotilla using 'any means necessary.'