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Organizers: Gaza flotilla era may be over

July 2, 2011 3:29 P.M. (Updated: July 3, 2011 4:19 P.M.)
By: Mya Guarnieri
ATHENS, Greece (Ma'an) -- A Greek decision to block ships from sailing to the Gaza Strip has prompted some organizers to rethink the flotilla movement that for years challenged Israel's blockade of the coastal enclave.

But US activists remained upbeat Friday as they discussed alternative ways to get to Gaza.

The activists said they felt that they had accomplished their goal of bringing attention to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has been in full effect for five years after previous restrictions under a policy of closure.

Passengers said the bureaucratic delays, physical blockages and threat of violence were "just a little taste" of the restrictions on freedom of movement faced by the 1.6 million Palestinians who live in Gaza.

Other organizers, who asked not to be identified, were less upbeat.

Speaking to Ma'an late Friday in Athens, the flotilla organizers remarked that this year’s embattled effort to sail to Gaza likely spelled the end of the Freedom Flotilla movement.

The act of sailing to Gaza is "a tactic," one of them said. "Maybe it’s run its course."

Asked Saturday about the immediate plans for the flotilla, a spokeswoman speaking on behalf of the organizers remarked that "Right now, it’s uncertain … there is a holding pattern."

The captain of the US Boat to Gaza, which left port briefly on Friday, has been charged with disobedience for violating an order barring his vessel from sailing and will attend a court appearance Monday.

As of Saturday morning, John Klusmer had not been jailed and was staying with the crew and activists on the boat, the Audacity of Hope, one of 10 ships that were to participate in the flotilla.

His US boat had defied dock orders to remain at port pending the investigation of a complaint that the vessel was not seaworthy, which organizers said was being deliberately delayed.

An Israeli group claimed responsibility for the complaint.

The Greek cabinet, about the same time the boat decided to leave, passed a motion forbidding sail to Gaza.

Although the activists were told they were free to leave the ship, most spent Friday night on board saying the decision was in solidarity with their captain and "the message of the boat."

Passengers were "keeping their focus on bringing public attention to the [Israeli] blockade."

Activists were also expected to engage in non-violent actions to "continue to point to what the Israeli government is doing. [Israel] has basically extended its tentacles to the shores of Greece."

The remark reflected intense diplomatic pressure that Israel has used to stop the flotilla.

On Thursday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly thanked the foreign governments that helped Israel in its efforts to prevent the ships from sailing.

Organizers said they were unaware of plans to sail Sunday, despite media reports. Their boat is being held in a military zone under coast guard watch and will not be able to participate.

A Canadian boat, the Tahrir, was also being blockaded in Greece, its organizers said.

Many of the flotilla members have flights back to the US on July 6. It was unclear whether they would change plans in order to stay in Athens to pursue protest activities and challenge Greece's cabinet decision.

As for the 3,000 letters from Americans to the people of Gaza, organizers remarked that even though the physical cargo might not make it, the flotilla’s efforts have sent the Palestinians a clear message of support.

Hamas, meanwhile, condemned the Greek decision as "inhumane."

"Barring this aid from reaching the Gaza Strip is done as a result of pressure imposed by the Zionist occupiers," Hamas said in a statement quoted by AFP, referring to Israel.

There was no immediate reaction from Hamas' secular rival Fatah.
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