French 'aid ship' sails towards Gaza

Yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists expected to reach Gaza Strip on Tuesday after leaving Greek waters.

    Israel has vowed to prevent any attempt to reach Gaza by sea in defiance of its naval blockade [Reuters]

    A French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists which set sail from a Greek island at the weekend, is expected to reach the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, organisers said.

    The Dignite Al Karama left the Greek island of Kastellorizo late on Saturday following a troubled stay in Greece after Athens imposed a ban on the departure of any ships planning to join an international aid flotilla heading for Gaza.

    The flotilla had hoped to break an Israeli naval blockade on the Palestinian territory, despite warnings from the Israeli govenrment.

    "The boat should be off the Gaza coast on Tuesday afternoon," Maxime Guimberteau, a spokesman, told AFP news agency by phone from Paris on Monday.

    "It is travelling slowly, mainly to conserve fuel," he said.

    At least 16 people are aboard the boat, including three crew members and journalists from Al Jazeera and Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.

    The crew and seven of the passengers are French nationals, while another three are representing boats which had been due to join the flotilla but were blocked from leaving Greece.

    Officials in Athens say they imposed the ban for the "safety" of the activists on board in the wake of last year's deadly incident when Israeli commandos raided a six-ship flotilla in a confrontation that left nine Turkish activists dead.

    "This 'little' boat symbolises the determination of the international solidarity movement to break the blockade on Gaza and express its support for the 1.6 million Palestinians imprisoned there since 2007," a statement from the boat said.

    "The fact that the Dignite Al Karama is at sea is a setback for the Israeli government which by force or by pressure is trying to perpetuate an illegal and criminal blockade and to silence civil society movements around the world," it said.

    Israel has vowed to prevent any attempt to reach Gaza by sea in defiance of its naval blockade which has been in place since 2006 and was tightened a year later when Hamas took over the coastal territory.

    Knesset member suspended

    Meanwhile, Israel's parliament suspended an Arab politician on Monday for sailing aboard last year's flotilla.

    The Knesset's Ethics Committee voted to suspend Hanin Zoabi from most parliamentary debates until the summer recess early next month, while allowing her to take part in any votes held in the current session.

    Knesset member Hanin Zoabi was suspended for taking part in the Gaza flotilla [Reuters]

    Zoabi was punished after three politicians filed complaints against her for travelling aboard the Mavi Marmara, the converted cruise ship stormed by commandos.

    The ethics committee said in a statement that Zoabi had "participated in an action destined to threaten state security".

    It accused her of co-operating with the Turkish charity IHH, which provided funds and volunteers for the Mavi Marmara mission and is outlawed in Israel because of its links to Hamas.

    Zoabi, who has denied wrongdoing in the flotilla incident, says she tried to mediate between the activists and Israeli forces.

    "An automatic right-wing majority should not be permitted to punish me for my political views," she told Israel's Army Radio.

    Zoabi, 42, the only female member of parliament in a party representing Israel's 20 per cent Arab minority, is a critic of the Israeli government's Palestinian policies.

    She was stripped of some of her diplomatic privileges by the Knesset last year.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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