Aid convoy sets sail for blockaded Gaza

NICOSIA - A six-ship convoy carrying aid for Palestinians set sail for Gaza on Sunday in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade of the impoverished territory and warnings that it would be intercepted.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Mon 31 May 2010, 9:17 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:00 AM

The ships, led by a Turkish vessel with 600 people on board, departed from international waters off Cyprus on Sunday afternoon. After dark, three Israeli naval craft set out from Haifa to meet them, a journalist aboard one of the vessels said.

“If all goes well and there are no problems or interruptions of any kind it should reach Gaza around 1400 local time tomorrow (Monday),” said Mary Hughes-Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, one of the organisers of the convoy.

Israel has already said it will prevent the convoy from reaching the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, a sliver of territory which Israel has blockaded for three years to prevent weapons and other materials it fears could be used for military purposes from reaching the enclave’s Islamist rulers.

Hamas has been preparing to receive the convoy at the small harbour in the city of Gaza. But Israeli marine commandos have held drills to practice boarding and searching the ships.

Activists face arrest and deportation, and their cargo will be confiscated and examined before a possible transfer by Israel to Gaza, Israeli military officials have said.

The flotilla was organised by pro-Palestinian groups and a Turkish human rights organisation. Turkey has urged Israel to allow it safe passage and says the 10,000 tonnes of aid the convoy is carrying is humanitarian.

Muslim Turkey is one of Israel’s closest allies in the Middle East but relations have soured. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has frequently criticised the Jewish state’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel and neighbouring Egypt tightened controls on Gaza’s borders after Hamas, which rejects the Jewish state, took over the territory in 2007. Tension has remained high since Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 offensive, which killed some 1,400.

Gaza’s people, many of whom rely on United Nations aid, complain of restrictions on supplies that go beyond a basic list of requirements approved by Israel.

The United Nations and Western powers have urged Israel to let in, notably, concrete and steel to allow for postwar reconstruction.

Israel has set up a holding camp for activists at the coastal city of Ashdod and said that any aid should be handed over for screening before being distributed in Gaza through Israeli-approved channels.

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