A group of pro-Palestinian activists ran into trouble Saturday, claiming that Israel had jammed their communications' systems as they tried to sail towards Gaza in rough waters.
The 'Free Gaza' activist group, comprised of 46 members from 17 countries including Germany, the US and Tunisia, left Cyprus on Friday, with the stated intention of breaking through an Israeli naval blockade and sailing into Gaza City.
The group members have with them a delivery of humanitarian supples (200 hearing devices) and balloons for Palestinians in Gaza. Among them is the sister-in-law of Middle East peace envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair
The activists (Photo: Reuters)
Free Gaza accused Israel of interefering with communications in an attempt to sabotage the mission. "I can't think of any other reason or any other party with an interest," said Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, a spokeswoman in Israel. She accused Israel of jeopardizing the activists' safety and appealed for international assistance.
Despite the setback, Godfrey-Goldstein said the activists were intent on reaching Gaza. She said she was in touch with an activist on board by mobile phone.
Israel avoiding provocation
Israel had warned the group against carrying out the mission, calling it an unacceptable provocation. "We are following the development and if they are looking for a provocation, we will know how to avoid it," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel.
Another spokesman for the ministry, Aviv Shiron, said Friday that "all options are being considered" when asked whether Israel intended to use force to turn the boats away. Israel's military declined comment.
In their statement, the activists said their communications systems had been "jammed and scrambled" and said they were "Victims of electronic piracy."
"We are not experienced sailors. As a result, there is concern about the health and safety of the people on board," the statement said.
The boats, which were still in international waters, were carrying Greek flags, and the statement urged the Greek government to intervene. The Greek Foreign Ministry said it was not aware of the latest developments and had no immediate reaction.
The activists were able to communication through satellite telephones and e-mail that did not depend on the ship's communications system, Godfrey-Goldstein said. Mekel said he did not know of any Israel attempt to jam the boats' communications.
Greeting party from Gaza
Meanwhile, in Gaza City, activists, reporters and even a musical band from a local scout group loaded
onto a dozen small boats heading toward the sea to greet the vessels. Other onlookers gathered at the port, some waving banners and Palestinian flags.
"I brought the kids so if they (the activists) arrive, I can tell them welcome - and thank you for not forgetting us," said Jamila Hassan, a 42-year-old Gaza resident who brought along her 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter to the port.
Palestinians claimed that the IDF fired shots at these boats as they were heading away from the coast.
Ali Waked and Reuters contributed to this report