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Palestinian member of Knesset to join third Gaza flotilla

June 22, 2015 1:44 P.M. (Updated: June 22, 2015 8:22 P.M.)
10 Turkish activists were killed when Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara ship which was part of the Free Gaza flotilla in May 2010.(Free Gaza Movement/AFP/File)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- An announcement by a Palestinian member of Israel's Knesset that he plans to join a flotilla seeking to break Israel's blockade on Gaza caused outrage Monday among the country's political class.

Basel Ghattas, an MK with the Joint List, sparked controversy after he announced he would join other parliamentarians and public figures from around the world in the latest attempt to reach Gaza by ship later this month.

Ghattas said in an open letter that the flotilla aimed to end Israel's blockade by focusing international attention on the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza living in "disgraceful, prison-like conditions" as part of a total siege which constitutes "collective punishment and is a brutal violation of international humanitarian law."

The MK urged Israeli security forces to allow the boat to arrive at its destination with its aid on board.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declared in May that Israel “will not allow unauthorized vessels to enter its territorial waters,” according to Israeli media.

Gaza has been subjected to an Israeli blockade for nine years, which includes a complete ban on ships entering or leaving the coastal enclave's waters.

Pro-Palestinian activists have repeatedly tried to reach the Gaza Strip by sea but have been blocked by the Israeli navy.

In May 2010, Israeli commandos staged a botched raid on a six-ship flotilla which ended in bloodshed that claimed the lives of 10 Turkish nationals and sparked a crisis with Ankara.

Hanin Zoabi, a female Palestinian MK who was on board at the time, was roundly denounced by the Israeli political establishment as a traitor -- with Ghattas now facing a similar outcry.

"It is the gravest thing possible that an Israeli MP would join the flotilla whose aim is to help the Hamas terror organisation," said Israeli Immigration Minister Zeev Elkin from the ruling right-wing Likud party.

"Israeli law does not allow anyone to serve in parliament who supports a terror organisation," he railed in an interview with army radio.

Israeli Deputy foreign minster Tzipi Hotovely said that joining the attempt to run the blockade was evidence Ghattas was working against Israel.

"The participation of an Arab Israeli MP alongside those who want to fight against Israel is a demonstration of activity in the service of the enemy under the sponsorship of parliamentary immunity," she said in a statement late Sunday.

She said the foreign ministry had been working around the clock to prevent the flotilla from reaching Israel's territorial waters.

One of the boats involved in the bid is a Swedish trawler called "Marianne of Gothenburg" which set sail from Sicily on Friday evening.

It is expected to meet up with several other vessels in the coming days to form what is being referred to as the Freedom Flotilla III, organizers say.

They are expected to try and reach Gaza before the end of the month.

The blockade on Gaza compounds the devastation caused by three Israeli military operations in the besieged territory since 2008, leaving huge swathes of Gaza in ruins and causing permanent damage to basic infrastructure due to restrictions on the entry of building materials.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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