OSLO / RAMALLAH
Hamas naval police ride boats to welcome an aid ship destined for Gaza in this 2010 photo.
Scandinavian activist groups are launching an aid ship destined for Gaza, hoping to challenge the Israeli blockade and draw international attention to the conflict in a move reminiscent of the 2010 “Freedom Flotilla,” organizers said.
“We have the same goal as the previous flotillas, to put an end to the blockade of Gaza by challenging the Israeli navy,” said Torstein Dahle, the leader of the Norwegian section of the activist group “Ship to Gaza.” “This time around it will be an easy task for the Israelis to stop us because we will be so few and strictly non-violent,” Dahle told Reuters at Oslo harbor.
The SV Estelle, a 53-meter vessel backed mainly by Swedish and Norwegian groups, was set to sail from Oslo on Aug. 7, and organizers hope several other ships will join it during its journey before it reaches waters off Gaza in October.
In May 2010, several aid ships trying to run Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip were halted by Israeli naval commandos, who killed nine pro-Palestinian Turks aboard Mavi Marmara, one of the vessels. A second convoy, planned a year later, did not sail after the organizers said they had been sabotaged.
In November 2011, the Israeli navy boarded two yachts in international waters, one Canadian and one Irish, carrying pro-Palestinian activists and medical supplies and heading for Gaza to challenge the Israeli blockade. Israel
says it blockades seaborne approaches to the Gaza Strip to prevent arms smuggling to the Palestinians.
Gaza increasingly cut off from territories: Fayyad
In the meantime, Gaza is becoming more and more cut off from the rest of the Palestinian territories as hopes of sealing a Fatah-Hamas unity deal fade, Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad has warned.
“With each day that passes without practical steps towards achieving reconciliation, Gaza is starting to become a distinct entity,” he told Agence France-Presse late on Aug. 6.
Hopes of achieving a Palestinian state were also fading as it was not possible to have an independent state in the West Bank alone, he said. “There is no Palestinian state without Gaza,” he admitted. In April 2011, the ruling Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a reconciliation deal with its Hamas rivals, but the deal was never implemented.