New flotilla: Activists in New York announced Wednesday that two ships carrying 27 activists from five states, including the US, are currently sailing through international waters in the Mediterranean Sea en route to Gaza. The vessels departed from Turkey.
"The Canadian ship Tahrir and Irish ship Saoirse have successfully reached international waters, initiating 'Freedom Wave to Gaza'. The boats have embarked from Turkey and are on the Mediterranean Sea," the organisers from Ustogaza group said in an e-mailed statement.
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The activists said they did not announce the step in advance in order to prevent US and Israeli pressure on countries where their ships docked. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) called for an end to the blockade on Gaza and said it supported flotilla efforts to end the isolation of Palestinians in the Strip.
The organization, which provides legal aid to terror suspects held in Guantanamo, criticized US Congress for supporting the blockade.
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One of the organizers, Jane Hirschmann, pledged to send more ships to show solidarity with Gaza's population which she said was being imprisoned. "We shall not keep silent," she said.
Ben, a left-wing activist in the West Bank told Ynet that on board the ships are citizens from the US, Canada, Ireland, Austria, Denmark and the Palestinian Authority. He noted that the ships originally departed from Ireland and Canada.
"The reason we didn’t publically announce the flotilla before reaching international waters was to prevent delays or sabotage which plagued past flotillas," he said.
Ben added that the ships are slated to reach Gaza shores on Friday and that the activists do not intend to confront IDF soldiers. "There are no weapons on board and we pledged not to use any form of violence but passive resistance," he noted. According to Ben, the ships carry humanitarian aid worth $30,000.
The government has instructed the IDF to stop any vessel trying to break the siege. The IDF's Spokesperson's Unit said that Israel intends to offer the activists to transfer the humanitarian aid to Gaza via the Ashdod Port or Egypt. The Navy will not allow the ships to reach Gaza and is preparing to stop it.
The army's information suggests that among the activists on board the vessels are journalists and an Arab-Israeli citizen. The flotilla was organized by Irish and Canadian pro-Palestinian groups and not the IHH, the army estimates.
IDF officials also believe that the ships carry little medical equipment as the flotilla's purpose is to create provocation and not necessarily help the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the activists on board the ships are flooding the web with updates on their mission. Various websites have started following the vessels and are reporting on their whereabouts in the Mediterranean. They were last spotted east of Rhodes.
On activist wrote on his Twitter page that authorities have reduced the number of passengers on board each ship to 12. A journalist participating in the flotilla reported that the Turkish coast guard did not approach the ships.
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Prior to setting sail the activists were documented in a video uploaded to the internet. Michael Coleman said he was "the Australian representative on the freedom flotilla. And yeah, there is a sense that this could possibly be déjà vu. I went home from the last flotilla feeling quite frustrated."
The Alarab website posted a message from Majed Kiyal, a Haifa resident who is also participating in the flotilla.
MK Hanin Zoabi, who participated in 2010's Gaza flotilla said: "This flotilla is proof that even the Palmer Report could not render an inhumane siege legal." Zoabi expressed support of the activists and warned against a violent reaction by the IDF.
Elior Levy, Reuters, Hassan Shaalan, Roi Kais and Moran Azulay contributed to this report