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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Activists break Gaza blockade) ]

Activists break Gaza blockade)

TWO boats carrying international activists and humanitarian supplies yesterday arrived in Gaza after leaving from Cyprus on Friday, breaking an Israeli blockade. They were welcomed by crowds of cheering Palestinians.

The two boats – the wooden sailing ships SS Free Gaza and SS Liberty – are the first vessels to have passed through this stretch of water for 41 years. “This is a truly incredible day. I can’t believe it,” said one of the organisers of the Free Gaza Movement, which arranged the sailing, Ramzi Kysia.

Several boats carrying flag waving Gazans met the seafaring activists just offshore and escorted them on the last leg of their 240 nautical mile voyage.

"The arrival of the two ships after this adventure represents a big breakthrough in the wall of the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri as he watched the ships approach the coast.

Rami Abbo, a spokesman for the Palestinian Anti-Siege Committee, a group with ties to Hamas, called the ships' arrival "a victory for the will of the Palestinian people".

Officials of the Islamist Hamas movement said 13 boats that had put to sea from Gaza earlier on Saturday aiming to greet the activists were forced to turn back by Israeli ships which fired shots in the air. An Israeli military spokeswoman said no naval vessel had fired in the area.

Earlier in the day Israel said it would allow the seafaring activists to enter the Hamas-controlled territory.

"We will allow the two boats to arrive in Gaza in order to avoid a well-publicised provocation in the middle of the sea," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said.

"And because we know who is on the boats and what they contain ... we will allow them to land," Mekel said, adding there had been no contact between the navy and the activists.

Kysia said the ships were carrying 200 hearing aids that will be given to children in Gaza who have become deaf as a result of the sound bombs and sonic bombs used during the conflict. “This delivery without permission is a symbol of our breaking the blockade,” he said.

Over 40 "Free Gaza" activists from 17 nations were on board the ships. “What we’ve done shows that people can do what governments should have done. If people stand up against injustice we can be a conscience of the world,” said Israeli Jess Halper, on board one of them.

Among those making the trip to highlight poor living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, was the sister-in-law of Middle East peace envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair and an 81-year-old American nun.

Some of those onboard will remain in Gaza to carry out humanitarian work, while others are due to return to Cyprus in the next few days. Kysia said this was not a one-off mission and that further boats would be dispatched to Gaza. “We are hoping to soon announce a Free Gaza ferry service,” he said.

Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005 but has tightened restrictions on the territory since Hamas seized control there last year from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces

Israel and Hamas agreed a ceasefire in June. It calls on both sides to stop cross border violence and on Israel to ease its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Hundreds of Palestinians watched the arrival of the ships along the coast, which is patrolled by the Israeli navy. Palestinians were expected to celebrate last night after the historic arrival.

“Tonight the cheering will be heard as far away as Tel Aviv and Washington CD,” commented Kysia.

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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