RANKIN: Greece halts Canadian ship in Gaza flotilla 1Jul11 July 3, 2011
by Jim RankinÂ -Â The Star -Â 1 July 2011
AGIO NIKOLAOS, GREECEâAfter months of remaining secret, the location of the Canadian ship participating in Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza was outed in this Greek seaside town when authorities boarded it â on Canada Day â and tried to seize the shipâs transit log, which is need to sail.
Flotilla organizers alleged there had been acts of sabotage against two ships earlier in the week.
Then on Friday came an edict from the Greek government â under pressure from Israel, organizers charge â that blocked the Canadian boat and other ships from setting out to challenge the Israeli sea blockade of Gaza and to deliver humanitarian aid.
âWe are being Gaza-fied,â Lyn Adamson, 59, a lifelong Toronto activist and chair of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, said outside the port authority office in this tourist destination on the island of Crete.
âWhat weâre doing is perfectly legal and we havenât given up,â said Adamson, one of 22 Canadians picked to be aboard the Canadian boat Tahrir â Arabic for âliberationâ and named after the square in Cairo where Egyptians gathered and toppled Hosni Mubarak early this year.
âItâs clearly coming from on high,â said Adamson. âItâs really a shame that this Greek government would be pressured, as it has been, into stopping these boats. Why is Israel afraid of our aid?â
Israel says its sea blockade stops weapons from reaching Iran-backed Hamas militants who control Gaza, and had warned it would stop any attempt to circumvent its restrictions. A year ago, nine activists on a Turkish boat died in an Israeli raid on a similar flotilla, with each side accusing the other of starting the violence.
In Jerusalem Friday, Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich cited intelligence information that claimed Hamoud Tareq, a son-in-law of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, was among the flotilla organizers.
She said Tareq is active in the Hamas movement, which the Israel, the European Union and many western countries consider a terror group. Gaza is ruled by Hamas.
By nightfall Friday, the 36 delegates on the Canadian boat â including contingents from Belgium, Denmark, Australia and Turkey â had left hotel rooms and gone to sleep aboard the Tahrir. As well, there were 11 journalists from seven countries. The Star, there to cover the flotilla, has a space on the Canadian boat.
Participants come from all walks of life, men and women of all ages and from a spectrum of religious beliefs. The average age is 45; about a third of delegates are grandparents.
In addition to banning flotilla boats from leaving, the Greek order Friday said âthe broader maritime area of eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating in such campaign.â
The U.S. boat â named âThe Audacity of Hopeâ after a book written by President Barack Obama â made a run for open water Friday. It steamed for nearly half an hour before the Greek coast guard intercepted it.
The boat, which has Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize author of The Color Purple, among its delegates, returned to port in Athens.
The Canadian boat said in a statement that the flotilla has been subject to âdiplomatic pressure and manipulation, economic blackmail, bureaucratic obstacles, baseless and slanderous allegations against the flotilla and the delegates, and sabotage of at least two vessels.â
Despite calls to end its blockade, Israel has called the flotilla unnecessary and âhatefulâ and said it intends to intercept it, using force if necessary. Canada has deemed the flotilla âprovocative,â the U.S. âirresponsible.â
The Tahrir was clearing final paperwork Friday when a coast guard officer boarded with the intention of seizing its transit log.
He was met by co-organizer Sandra Ruch of Toronto, a dozen boat delegates and media. The delegates blocked his path. Ruch, draped in a Canadian flag, hung onto the papers.
Soldiers with machine guns were at the ready in the marina but they stayed aside and avoided the media. Several coast guard boats blocked the mouth of the port.
The Tahrir, a day-trip tourist boat, has no beds. A luxury ship it is not; delegates came with sleeping bags and mats and provisions for several days at sea.
Organizers bought it for $500,000 using money raised by the delegates chosen to sail on it. They put another $50,000 into it for improvements. All its paperwork was in order, said Stephan Corriveau of Montreal, part of the steering committee.
âNow that the boat is in shipshape, there are problems,â he said. âThe Greek government bent to the pressure of the Israeli government.â
The delegates have been here for more than a week. Theyâd been secretly meeting and training to break the blockade of Gaza and deliver a symbolic amount of aid to Palestinians living there.
On Friday did they make their presence known. The group grew in size and marched through narrow streets and past chic cafes to the Hellenic Port Authority, drawing curious glances from locals, many of whom were supportive.
âFree Gaza, free the flotilla,â and âShame Papandreou,â they chanted, taking aim at the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, who is mired in his own problems: the meltdown of the economy, austerity measures and riots in Athens. Heâs also apparently under pressure to block the flotilla before it can challenge Israelâs blockade of Gaza.
The boats intending to set off â a French boat is already at sea â are carrying humanitarian aid. Organizers say it is for people who are suffering, not for Hamas.
When organizer met with the port authority Friday, they were handed the government edict, issued by the Greek ministry responsible for citizen protection, and were told there were concerns the Tahrir does not have suitable sleeping quarters for a group their size, said Davis Heap, a University of Western Ontario professor who is part of the boatâs steering committee.
Boat organizers then submitted a written request to move the boat â with captain and crew only â to another port authority.
They were slapped with more paperwork and the boat was put under 24-hour surveillance.
MORE REPORTS HERE
The Greek government has issued an edict that is keeping flotilla ships in port but that
did not stop one boat from leaving, albeit a tandem kayak with two delegates from the
Tahrir aboard. Nick Wallwork of Australia and Robert Lovelace, a former Chief of the
Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and professor of indigenous studies at Queenâs University,
paddled away from port with a small about of medical supplies. They of course did not
make it to Gaza but they were also not stopped by the Greek coast guard. To makes
matters more dramatic, the Tahrirâs engine was fired up at the same time and delegates
aboard began cheering. Members of the Greek navy, who are watching the ship around
the clock, didnât approach but did get on the phone. Following the photo-op, the engine
was turned off and the navy went to stand-down mode.