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Palestinians await ship attempting to break Gaza siege

Oct. 17, 2012 7:27 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 19, 2012 12:55 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Civil society leaders and NGO representatives gathered at Gaza City's port on Wednesday to show solidarity with the Estelle ship as it heads toward Gaza.

Amjad al-Shawwa, director of the Gaza network of NGOs, said the boat was facing incitement campaigns and that Israel was pressuring governments of the activists' countries to stop them reaching Gaza.

The group gathered near a memorial for the Mavi Marmara, a 2010 flotilla that was raided by Israeli forces who killed nine passengers. Several small boats sailed off the coast as a symbolic reception for the Estelle, which is due to arrive Saturday.

An Israeli military source told The Jerusalem Post that the navy was preparing to intercept the boat. A foreign ministry spokeswoman told the newspaper Israel would not allow the vessel to reach Gaza.

Al-Shawwa said solidarity activists on board the Estelle, a Swedish boat flying a Finnish flag, would ignore Israeli threats and sail to Gaza to break the blockade.

The activists are demonstrating that "the Palestinian people are not facing this Israeli blockade alone as there are free people in the world who stand by their side and support them as they demand freedom, justice and human rights," he said.

He urged UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to protect the ship and help it reach Gaza safely.

Muhsin Abu Ramadan, chairman of the board of Gaza NGOs, said the activists were risking their lives by confronting Israel's naval blockade of Gaza because they opposed tyranny and oppression.

"The Gaza Strip has the right to a safe water passage and to be freed from this blockade. Those activists are the ones who expose the Israeli violations," Abu Ramadan said.

Cement, footballs

The Estelle set sail in June around Europe, and left Naples on Oct. 6 heading for Gaza. European MPs and international activists, including Israeli nationals, are on board.

The boat's cargo, listed on the flotilla's website, includes cement, wheel chairs, crutches, toys, musical instruments and 300 footballs.

Responding to Israel's UN ambassador Ron Prosor's letter to the UN urging the world body to stop the flotilla, the activists said they welcomed further inspections of their cargo by the UN.

"What we refuse to accept is something which also the UN and the majority of the international community oppose: the illegal and in a humanitarian perspective devastating siege of the Gaza Strip," they said in a statement.

The passengers have undergone non-violent training in case Israel's military boards the vessel. They have signed a pledge to act peacefully even if their lives are threatened, a statement on the group's website says.

Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, said Wednesday that he was in touch with activists on board.

He said he was concerned they would be attacked by Israeli authorities, but expressed pride in their resistance to Israel's blockade.

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