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Israeli bulldozers have demolished part a hotel in East Jerusalem to make way for 20 new homes for Jewish settlers. The destruction of the Shepherd Hotel has angered Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said Israel was destroying any chance of returning to peace talks by carrying out the demolition. Israel says it has a right to build homes in any part of the city. The Shepherd Hotel was built in the 1930s and was once home to Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who became an ally of Adolf Hitler in WWII.
Its current ownership is disputed – Israel says it belongs to a Jewish-American property developer but Palestinians say it was seized illegally after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. “By doing this, Israel has destroyed all the US efforts and ended any possibility of a return to negotiations,” said Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Mr Abbas. Attempts by the US to revive peace negotiations stalled last year, after Israel refused to end settlement building on occupied Palestinian land. “Israel has no right to build in any part of east Jerusalem, or any part of the Palestinian land occupied in 1967,” said Mr Abu Rudeina. The Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, Adnan al-Husseini, said it was the latest in a line of demolitions of historic buildings and accused Israel of “trying to erase any Palestinian identity from the city of Jerusalem”.
The US had criticised the project as far back as 2009, when building approval was granted. But Israeli officials said the demolition had been carried out legally and defended its decision. “This is something that every country does in its own domain without the necessity to give any report to any other government,” said the minister for national infrastructure, Uzi Landau. Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Syria on Tuesday blasted new Israeli military orders that pave the way for large-scale expulsions of Palestinians from the West Bank and warned the move was an “ethnic cleansing policy” in the occupied Palestinian territories. Under the new rules, which are to take effect on Tuesday, anyone caught in the West Bank without an Israeli permit could face expulsion within days or be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. This would include thousands of Gazans who have moved to the West Bank, foreign-born Palestinians married to West Bankers and foreigners who are in the West Bank on expired tourist visas. “This decision is the adoption of the ethnic cleansing policy and a step to the mass deportation aiming at emptying the land from its people,” a Syrian Foreign Ministry official said. “It also constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and human rights and disregard of the will and resolutions of the international community.
“Syria, while confirming the need for an urgent move at both Arab and international levels to condemn this decision and prevent its implementation, sees that it is extremely dangerous to continue providing immunity to Israel as this enables it to disdain international law and will of the whole international community,” the source added. His statement was carried by state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. The West Bank has attracted a growing number of foreign activists who have joined Palestinians in protests against Israeli military rule. In recent months, Israel seized two foreigners with expired visas in a West Bank town and then expelled them. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Arab League chief Amr Moussa on Monday condemned Israel’s decision and said after a set of talks in Damascus that the world had to take up an “urgent action” to stop the measure.
“For as long as this lasts, things will get worse, and it will be more difficult to bring true peace” to the region, Mussa said, adding that the Arab League council would hold an “urgent meeting” on Tuesday to discuss the issue. Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. It is expected to form the main part of the Palestinians’ promised future state.
Dr. Ilan Pappe
Israeli gets 3 months in prison non violent protest (riding a bicycle)
A veteran British Jewish lawmaker, Sir Gerald Kaufman, has compared the Israeli offensive in Gaza to the Nazis who forced his family to flee from Poland. Kaufman, who was brought up as an orthodox Jew and Zionist, said: “My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town a German soldier shot her dead in her bed. “My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt from gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.” He said the claim that many of the Palestinian victims were militants “was the reply of the Nazi” and added: “I suppose the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.”
My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. He accused the Israeli government of seeking “conquest” and added: “They are not simply war criminals, they are fools.” Kaufman called for a total arms ban on Israel. “It is time for our government to make clear to the Israeli government that its conduct and policies are unacceptable and to impose a total arms ban on Israel.” He also branded the Israeli PM, the foreign minister and defense minister as war criminals. “Is it not an incontrovertible fact that Olmert, Livni and Barak are mass murderers and war criminals?” In a BBC interview Kaufman said about the rising Palestinian death toll: “Four Jews against 1,000 Palestinians – that is Nazism.” Kaufman, 64, called Israel’s actions “not only barbaric but also stupid” because, he said, terrorism could not be defeated by force of arms. “It failed in Lebanon and it will fail here,” he said
Non-Jews not welcome
Seven people, including three children, have been killed by Israeli shells which hit a beach in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials say. At least 30 people were wounded in the shelling, they say. The Israeli military says it has halted all shelling of Gaza and has launched an inquiry into whether ground-based artillery could have been involved. In a statement, the military wing of Hamas threatened to resume attacks on Israel in the wake of “massacres”. The group has been observing a self-imposed ceasefire for more than a year. Although there have been threats of a response to other attacks in recent months, the BBC’s Simon Wilson in Jerusalem says the move is significant because it appears on the official website of the armed wing of the group. There was no immediate word from the political wing of Hamas, which dominates the government in the Palestinian Authority.
Four other people were also killed in separate Israeli air strike in northern Gaza on Friday, Palestinians said. Palestinian officials say the seven people killed on the Gaza Strip beach included two women as well as the three children. The first television pictures revealed a terrible scene, the BBC’s Alan Johnston says. At least four figures lay unconscious on the ground, possibly dead, our correspondent says. A little further away, a man was lying on a sand dune, perhaps fatally injured, while a child stood looking on in utter horror, our correspondent says. He says around the casualties were tables and chairs, and it looks very much as if this was a family enjoying their Friday afternoon off on the beach when disaster struck.
This was the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) appeal for the people of Gaza which was banned from BBC and Sky News (and other news agencies). Their refusal to show an appeal citing impartiality demonstrates what little impartiality the BBC has.
“We are passionate about defending the BBC’s impartiality and we worry with such an emotive and such a political story – the United Nations this morning describing it as a political crisis with humanitarian consequences. We do want to cover the humanitarian story, we want to cover it in our news programmes where we can put it in context, we can do it in an even, carefully balanced, objective way. We worry about being seen to endorse something which could give people the impression that we were backing one side.” – MARK THOMPSON, BBC DIRECTOR GENERAL. “These are difficult judgements for all broadcasters, but particularly so for the BBC because of the way it is funded. I am pleased this appeal will now be shown, that other broadcasters have decided to do so. But as the man who does uphold the independence of broadcasters in this country, I think it is right that broadcasters come to their own judgement.
And the fact that Sky are obviously still considering these issues in the balance does demonstrate that for broadcasters that have an international presence, it is a difficult judgement call for them.” – ANDY BURNHAM, CULTURE SECRETARY. “This is not a row about impartiality but rather about humanity. This situation is akin to that of British military hospitals who treat prisoners of war as a result of their duty under the Geneva convention. They do so because they identify need rather than cause. This is not an appeal by Hamas asking for arms but by the Disasters Emergency Committee asking for relief. By declining their request, the BBC has already taken sides and forsaken impartiality.” – DR JOHN SENTAMU, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK.
“It’s an insult to the viewing public to suggest they can’t distinguish between the humanitarian needs of thousands of children and families in Gaza and the political sensitivities of the Middle East. It’s a distinction which anyone can make and to suggest the BBC should somehow not allow people to show their compassion because of the wider controversies in the Middle East is a case, in this instance, of the BBC totally getting its priorities upside down.” – NICK CLEGG, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADER.
“I think the British public can distinguish between support for humanitarian aid and perceived partiality in a conflict. I really struggle to see, in the face of the immense human suffering in Gaza at the moment, that this is in any way a credible argument. They still have time to make a different judgement, to recognise the immense human suffering and to address the concern – which I think otherwise may develop – that somehow the suffering of people in Gaza is not taken as seriously as the suffering of people in other conflicts.” – DOUGLAS ALEXANDER, INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY.
Haroon Siddique guardian.co.uk, Friday 11 June 2010 17.33 BST
New footage has emerged of the Israeli assault on a convoy of aid ships headed to Gaza in which nine activists were killed. The high-quality film was reportedly recorded by New York-based documentary maker Iara Lee aboard the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship that bore the brunt of the Israeli attacks. Israel attempted to confiscate all footage recorded by participants in the Gaza Freedom flotilla – including taking away mobile phones – but Lee managed to smuggle one hour of video out of the country by hiding it in her underwear, it was reported.The 15 minutes of film posted online shows the moments leading up to and during the Israeli commandos’ assault on the Mavi Marmara.
At one stage, the captain of the boat can be heard over the public address system saying: “Do not show resistance … They are using live ammunition … Be calm, be very calm.” Gunshots can be heard. The film includes footage of an Israeli inflatable boat carrying commandos, and troops can be seen rappelling from a helicopter on to the Mavi Marmara. While they do so, two men on the Marmara can be seen using catapults aimed at the soldiers, who are high above them, although the projectiles they are firing cannot be ascertained. At one point, a passenger on the boat says to the camera: “[The activists] hold two soldiers down here, bleeding and wounded.” One soldier can be seen being carried down the stairs of the vessel. In an interview with Democracy Now, Lee said the soldiers were injured in the commotion. “They got treatment by our passengers,” she said.
A number of passengers are shown in the video receiving medical treatment for wounds, including one man being resuscitated. He does not appear to respond. At the end of the footage a woman can be heard shouting: “We have no guns here, we are civilians taking care of injured people. Don’t use violence, we need help.” Lee described the attack as terrifying. “[The Israelis] came to kill,” she said. “They wanted to take over the ship.” More than 600 pro-Palestinian activists were detained by Israel in the 31 May raids on the aid convoy. There was global condemnation of the assault but Israel claimed its troops acted in self-defence after coming under attack from members of an “extremist” Turkish group.
It announced on Monday it would conduct an internal investigation into the incident, defying pressure for a thorough international inquiry. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions said any inquiry set up by Israel should include “all video and other records of the incident, including those confiscated from civilians”. Philip Alston said it must be able to interview all key witnesses, including military personnel. “Any inquiry set up by Israel to investigate the Gaza flotilla incident must be given a genuine capacity to find the facts. Without that capacity an inquiry will simply not be considered credible.” Alston said the inquiry must be independent of government, have full legal authority to investigate and make its final report open to the public.
31 May 2010 Last updated at 16:39
At least nine people have been killed after Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army says. Armed forces boarded the largest vessel overnight, clashing with some of the 500 people on board. It happened about 40 miles (64 km) out to sea, in internatio nal waters. Israel says its soldiers were shot at and attacked with weapons; the activists say Israeli troops came on board shooting. The activists were attempting to defy a blockade imposed by Israel after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007.
There has been widespread condemnation of the violence, with several countries summoning the Israeli ambassadors serving there. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked by reports of killings and injuries” and called for a “full investigation” into what happened. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in Canada, has cancelled a scheduled visit to Washington on Tuesday to return to Israel, officials said. Earlier, he expressed his “full backing” for the military involved in the raid, his office said. The White House said the US “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained” in the storming of the aid ship. A spokesman said US officials were “currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy”.
The six-ship flotilla, carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, left the coast of Cyprus on Sunday and had been due to arrive in Gaza on Monday. Israel had repeatedly said the boats would not be allowed to reach Gaza. Israel says its soldiers boarded the lead ship in the early hours but were attacked with axes, knives, bars and at least two guns. “Unfortunately this group were dead-set on confrontation,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told the BBC. “Live fire was used against our forces. They initiated the violence, that’s 100% clear,” he said. Organisers of the flotilla said at least 30 people were wounded in the incident. Israel says 10 of its soldiers were injured, one seriously. A leader of Israel’s Islamic Movement, Raed Salah, who was on board, was among those hurt. Contact with activists on the ships was lost after the raids and no first-hand accounts from them have yet emerged. Arafat Shoukri, of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) which organised the convoy, said those on board one ship had told them by telephone that Israeli helicopters had arrived. Then we started to hear screams, shouting, shooting everywhere,” he said. “We heard some of them shouting ‘we are raising the white flag, stop shooting at us’.” He said Israeli claims that activists had pistols and other weapons were “cheap propaganda”. Audrey Bomse, also of the FGM, told the BBC that the activists were “not going to pose any violent resistance”. By midday Israel had towed three of the six boats to the port of Ashdod and says it will deport the passengers from there.
Turkish TV pictures taken on board the Turkish ship leading the flotilla appeared to show Israeli soldiers fighting to control passengers. The footage showed a number of people, apparently injured, lying on the ground. A woman was seen holding a blood-stained stretcher. Al-Jazeera TV reported from the same ship that Israeli navy forces had opened fire and boarded the vessel, wounding the captain. The Al-Jazeera broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, saying: “Everybody shut up!” Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said his country “regrets any loss of life and did everything to avoid this outcome”. He accused the convoy of a “premeditated and outrageous provocation”, describing the flotilla as an “armada of hate”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Israel’s actions, saying it had committed a massacre, while Hamas said Israel had committed a “great crime and a huge violation of international law”. Turkey, whose nationals comprised the majority of those on board, accused Israel of “targeting innocent civilians”. Turkey was Israel’s closest Muslim ally but relations have deteriorated over the past few years. In Turkey, thousands of protesters demonstrated against Israel in Istanbul, while several countries have summoned Israeli ambassadors to seek an explanation as to what happened. Greece has withdrawn from joint military exercises with Israel in protest at the raid on the flotilla. Israel had repeatedly said it would stop the boats, calling the campaign a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”. Israel says it allows about 15,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week. But the UN says this is less than a quarter of what is needed.
From Times Online May 31, 2010 by Judith Evans
Outrage spread around the world this morning as news broke that Israeli forces had attacked a convoy bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, killing at least ten people in international waters. Israel says its forces faced resistance from activists armed with knives and metal bars – but the international outcry has continued. Here is the reaction to the violence:
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “shocked” by the deadly raid. “I condemn this violence,” he told a press conference in Kampala, Uganda, where he is attending a conference on the International Criminal Court (ICC). “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place,” Mr Ban said. “I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.” He spoke moments after a speech hailing the “new age of accountability” heralded by the creation of the ICC in 2002, of which Israel is not a member. The United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay also expressed shock. “In the Gaza Strip the blockade keeps undermining human rights on a daily basis … the current situation falls far short of what is necessary for the population to lead normal and dignified lives,” she added.
Turkey is reported to have lost at least nine citizens in the raid after a Turkish ship was the site of the greatest violence between Israeli forces and pro-Palestinian activists. Turkey awoke in shock this morning and tens of thousands gathered to protest in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul. Converging at the Israeli Consulate, protesters marched on the city’s central square chanting slogans such as “Damn Israel!” and “A tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, revenge, revenge!” More demonstrations took place outside the residence of Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy in Ankara, the Turkish capital. Until now one of Israel’s few Muslim allies, Turkey immediately withdrew its Ambassador to Israel and cancelled three planned joint military exercises. The Turkish Foreign Ministry warned Israel that bilateral ties could suffer “irreparable consequences”, describing the operation as “unacceptable”. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would cut short a tour to Latin America to return home today.
A Greek vessel, the Sfendoni, reportedly came under fire along with the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, which bore the brunt of the violence. Greece cancelled a visit by the Israeli Air Force chief that had been scheduled for tomorrow, cut short a joint Greek-Israeli Air Force exercise, and summoned the Israeli ambassador for an explanation.
Arab and Muslim groups
The head of the Arab League said Arab states must reconsider their dealings with Israel in light of the violence. “Israel’s attack indicates Israel is not ready for peace. Israel attacked the liberty fleet because it feels it is above the law,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said in Doha. “There is no benefit in dealing with Israel in this manner and we must re-assess our dealing with Israel,” he said. On behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Pakistani diplomat Marghoob Saleem Butt said: “We strongly condemn today’s Israeli attacks on the boat convoy carrying humanitarian aid and supplies to the people of occupied Gaza … This is yet another example of Israeli disregard of all international norms and laws,” he told the Human Rights Council. “We demand that Israeli authorities immediately release all the boats and arrested people and take action against those responsible for these attacks and killing,” he added.
Ambassadors from the 27 European Union countries are to hold emergency talks in Brussels today after contacting their Israeli counterparts. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton of Upholland said she had called Israel’s top diplomat to express concern. “During the course of this morning I have spoken to Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman, the Foreign Minister of Israel. I expressed my deepest concern about the tragedy that has happened. I said that we needed an inquiry by Israel into the circumstances,” she told reporters. “I have also taken the opportunity to point out, having visited Gaza, the importance of opening the crossings for humanitarian aid to go through to ensure that ordinary people have a better existence than that which I saw.”
Some 28 Britons were on board the flotilla, according to the Palestinian rights group Friends of Al-Aqsa. It is unclear whether any have been injured. The Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza flotilla. Our embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli Government. We are asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved. “We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way, because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations. It will be important to establish the facts about this incident, and especially whether enough was done to prevent deaths and injuries.” He also called on Israel to lift restrictions on access to Gaza and address concerns over the humanitarian and economic situation in the strip.
The US “deeply regrets” the deaths, the White House said. “The United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy,” said the White House spokesman Bill Burton. President Barack Obama and the Israeli President Binyamin Netanyahu are scheduled to meet tomorrow over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
An Algerian Islamist party, the Movement for Peaceful Society, said it had no news of 32 Algerians travelling on board the ships. “We are without news of the Algerian delegation of 32 members comprising members of parliament, journalists and doctors,” a spokesman told AFP. “Unconfirmed reports speak of two casualties among the Algerians.” The Algerian Government was this morning holding crisis meetings to decide how to respond to the attack.
Two Australian journalists travelling with the convoy, writer Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty – both of The Sydney Morning Herald – are safe and being processed in an Israeli detention centre, the paper said. The Australian Government has not yet responded formally to the incident.
France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Israel of a “disproportionate use of force” and sent his condolences to the families of the victims. The Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was “deeply shocked”. “Nothing can justify the use of such violence,” he added. “We do not understand the still provisional human toll of such an operation against a humanitarian initiative that had been known about for several days. “The incident happened in an intolerable way in international waters.” France summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain, while an association of Jewish groups in France, CRIF, said it “deeply deplored” the killings.
Despite being one of Israel’s most loyal allies, Germany expressed shock at the events. “Every German Government supports unconditionally Israel’s right to self defence,” said the government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm. But he added that Israeli actions should correspond to what he described as the “basic principle” of proportionality. “A first look does not speak in favour of this basic principle being adhered to.”
Iran, one of Israel’s staunchest enemies, said the killings were “inhuman” and would help bring about an end to the state of Israel. “All these acts indicate the end of the heinous and fake regime and will bring it closer to the end of its existence,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the state broadcaster IRIB. The country called on the world to cut ties with Israel. “The minimum step that the international community should take regarding this horrible crime by the Zionist regime is to fully boycott it and to fully cut diplomatic, economic and political ties with the Zionist regime,” said the Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
Italy “deplored” the violence on board the flotilla. Its Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: “I absolutely deplore… the killing of civilians … an investigation must discover the truth about what happened. We demand a serious and detailed investigation, and I think the EU must be involved so that it is directly informed of the findings.”
Thousands of Palestinian refugees and activists held demonstrations across Lebanon to denounce the raid. Waving Palestinian flags and banners, the demonstrators marched in the 12 refugee camps scattered throughout the country and held a protest in central Beirut demanding that Israel be held to account for its actions. The Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, currently chaired by Lebanon. He said the raid was “a dangerous and crazy step that will exacerbate tensions in the region. Lebanon firmly denounces this attack and calls on the international community, notably major powers… to take action.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli “aggression,” declared three days of mourning across the West Bank and called on the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency sessions on the incident. The leader of the the rival Hamas Government in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh condemned the “brutal” attack and called for United Nations intervention. Hamas urged Muslims around the world to “rise up” in protest.
The current holder of the rotating EU presidency, Spain said it “condemns the military action… which has claimed a high number of victims” and considers the raid “totally disproportionate”. It summoned Israel’s ambassador to explain. Spanish media has been reporting that three Spanish citizens were on board the convoy.
With at least ten Swedes on board the flotilla, Sweden summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain the events. The Swedes include the author Henning Mankell, an MP and the controversial Swedish-Israeli artist Dror Feiler, the chairman of the Swedish group Jews for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Sabotage claim as Israeli navy is poised to intercept pro-Palestinian convoy By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem – Sunday, 30 May 2010. A Gaza-bound flotilla’s confrontation with the Israeli navy was delayed yesterday after mystery faults developed simultaneously in two of its boats. The Greek Cypriot government also prevented up to another 30 pro-Palestinian activists – including European parliamentarians – from joining the crafts. The flotilla, now down to five instead of the original eight boats, is carrying 10,000 tons of aid supplies and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists. It prepared to leave Cypriot waters en route to Gaza last night despite warnings by Israel that it would be stopped – by force if necessary – from landing in the besieged territory.
The voyage – the biggest effort yet to break through the three-year blockade of Gaza – had been described by senior Israeli spokesmen as a “cheap political stunt” and “an attempt at violent propaganda against Israel”. But Greta Berlin, one of the flotilla’s organisers, said yesterday that it had been mounted by “intrepid civilians who are doing something [about the siege of Gaza] because their governments don’t”.
Israel has made it clear that its navy is ready to arrest the flotilla’s passengers and hand them over to civilian authorities for deportation or trial if they ignore warnings to turn back or yield control of their vessels to the military. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, said: “We will not let this flotilla get through. It harms Israeli security.” Meanwhile, in Gaza, the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh claimed that, either way, the flotilla would bring the end of a blockade imposed when the Islamic faction seized control of the strip after its coalition with Fatah broke down in June 2007. As he toured Gaza City’s fishing harbour, he told around 400 supporters: “If the ships reach Gaza, it’s a victory for Gaza. If they are intercepted and terrorised by the Zionists, it will be a victory for Gaza, too, and they will move again in new ships to break the siege of Gaza.” The Greek Cypriot authorities, under pressure from Israel, refused to allow the boats to dock at its ports. They also prevented passengers who had flown to Cyprus to join the flotilla, including MPs from various European countries, to transfer on to the vessels. Yesterday’s delay came as attempts were made for an alternative embarkation from the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta.
Turkey has been the most prominent national supporter of the flotilla, with its Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging Israel to let the boats through. Israel’s alliance with Ankara was severely strained by the 2008-09 military offensive in Gaza. Meanwhile, two of the movement’s small passenger boats developed mechanical trouble at around 3.30pm on Friday as they neared the Cyprus coast from Crete. Last week, another vessel was delayed leaving Ireland by a propeller fault. While saying Free Gaza was still awaiting details of Friday’s malfunction from the boats’ captains, Ms Berlin said the coincidence of faults developing in all three boats had given rise to speculation of possible sabotage. Claiming that one Israeli official had indicated that the best tactic would be to pick off the boats one by one before they joined the flotilla, she added: “As far as I am concerned, there is a suspicion that this is what was done.” Israel has accused the participants of betraying their claim to be human rights activists by ignoring Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians and internal repression within Gaza. Critics of the blockade argue that it has harmed and impoverished the 1.5 million population of Gaza while leaving the rule of Hamas intact, and even entrenched.