Chavez to Join Next Blockade-Busting Trip to Gaza, Says British Activist 18Jul09 July 18, 2009

by  Patrick Goodenough
International Editor
16 July 2009


( – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, one of Israel’s fiercest international critics, will join a future convoy of leftists on a solidarity visit to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, according to the left-wing British lawmaker and convoy leader George Galloway.

Galloway on Wednesday arrived in Gaza from Egypt, where he joined a group of American activists, including former Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney and New York City Democratic Councilman Charles Barron, who had been trying for several days to get Egyptian permission to cross the border.

Galloway, who is on his second so-called “Viva Palestina” visit – the first one brought almost 100 vehicles, including ambulances, loaded with supplies into Gaza last March – said the third one would include the Venezuelan leader, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.

He did not specify a date, although the Viva Palestina campaign earlier announced plans for a convoy in October.

Chavez last January severed diplomatic ties with Israel, in protest against Israel’s military offensive against Hamas.

The suspension was the culmination of a campaign of criticism launched by Chavez in 2006, when he recalled Venezuela’s ambassador and compared an Israeli military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon to the actions of Nazi Germany.

Chavez’ stance drew praise from Hezbollah, Iran and Islamists in the Arab world, and Galloway embraced him as a kindred spirit, telling an anti-Israel protest rally in London that Chavez, like Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, was a “real leader of the Arab people.”

Galloway has himself become increasingly involved in the Palestinian cause. A veteran critic of Western policy on Iraq who opposed sanctions and the wars in 1991 and 2003, he was expelled from Britain’s ruling Labor Party in October 2003 over comments interpreted as inciting Iraqis to fight against British troops.

Israel occupied Gaza during the 1967 Six Day War, ending a 19-year Egyptian occupation. The 1993 Oslo Accords launched Palestinian self-rule and Israel in 2005 withdrew completely from the coastal strip, dismantling Jewish communities there.

It retains control of the Mediterranean coastal access as well as land crossing points between Gaza and Israeli territory. Egypt controls the southern border crossing, at Rafah.

In mid-2007, Hamas — an Islamist group sworn to Israel’s destruction — seized control of Gaza after armed clashes with Fatah, the faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel has blockaded the strip since the Hamas takeover, citing an escalation of rocket and other attacks launched across the border from Gaza.

Since last summer, a number of missions have been launched by Arab and Western activists in a bid to “break the siege” and deliver aid, usually by boat. The Israeli Navy has allowed some to reach Gaza, but it has stopped others, including a Libyan ship which approached the strip last November.

The following month, midway through the Israeli military offensive, a ship dubbed the SS Dignity was involved in an altercation with the Navy. Israel said it ignored orders to turn back; the activists onboard said a Navy vessel rammed the ship in international waters. McKinney, a Democrat in the U.S. House until 2007 and the Green Party’s candidate for president in 2008, was among those on board.

Last month, McKinney made a second attempt to reach Gaza by sea, along with 20 other activists. After their Greek-registered vessel, Arion, ignored repeated messages to turn back the Navy boarded it and arrested the crew and passengers.

McKinney spent five days in Israeli custody before being deported to the U.S. last week. She then headed back to Egypt to join up with the Viva Palestina convoy, and on her third attempt reached Gaza on Wednesday.

The Israeli government says aid organizations deliver supplies legally to Gaza by land every day and called the Arion excursion a “reckless political stunt.”

Israeli control over the waters off Gaza is in accordance with the Oslo Accords signed with the Palestinians in 1993 and 1995, which affirmed Israel’s responsibility for external security, and to counter any “threats from the sea and from the air.”


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