Third flotilla setting out to challenge Israeli blockade of Gaza

- At least 3 boats are preparing to set sail for Gaza in an attempt to penetrate the Israeli blockade of the territory. Activist Kalle Ohlsson said although there would be aid on board, the main objective was to open Gaza to trade and free movement.
Members of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition now in Palermo, Sicily, told Al Jazeera that final preparations were already under way and the boats hoped to reach Gaza by the end of this month. One ship, the Sweden-flagged Marianne, was moving between Sicilian ports. It has limited space but it is carrying some aid including medical equipment and solar panels. Details of the other boats and when they will set sail are being kept secret to avoid sabotage. Ohlsson said: "We're very concerned about safety. We have a strict non-violence policy. We're hoping Israel won't use violence against us." The three ships will all be flying Swedish flags. The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is based in Sweden and Norway.
The Swedish journalist Kajsa Ekman, who plans to sail on the Marianne, says:"I'm hoping that the Israelis actually understand that it would create a lot of more goodwill for them if they actually let the boats through, because there's no reason for them not to do that. It's counterproductive in the end. I think they've totally lost common sense here, because really it's not a threat to bring in medical equipment, to bring in medicine, to bring in solar panels."
The list of participants in the flotilla has been kept secret but it is known that a former Tunisian president is included, as well as athletes, academics, parliamentarians, journalists and a Catholic nun. One participant is Dro Feller, 63, a well-known musician and artist from Sweden. He was born in Israel and served in the Israeli armed forces, but emigrated to Sweden 40 years ago. His parents are anti-occupation activists. His mother still lives in Israel but Feller has been unable to visit her, as he is denied entrance to Israel. He cannot even go to get the court verdict explaining why he is banned. His saxophone was confiscated when he went on the first flotilla and he says they will not give it back. Feller said: “We must go because our politicians fail to do their job – they fail to put enough pressure on Israel to lift off the blockade on land and sea.”
The blockade was implemented in 2007 after Hamas took control of the strip. Palestinians may only enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing to Egypt, which is often closed, and the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings under the control of Israel. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report released last March: “These restrictions have reduced access to livelihoods, essential services and housing, disrupted family life, and undermined the people’s hopes for a secure and prosperous future.” A unity government agreed to by Hamas and the Fatah group of Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas is supposed to rule Gaza now, but Hamas appears still to be in control for the most part.


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