French flotilla boat sets sail for Gaza 5Jul11 July 6, 2011

Aljazeera -  5 July 2011

A French boat has set sail for Gaza from Corsica in the latest attempt by activists to deliver aid to the Palestinian territory, according to a journalist aboard the vessel.

The Dignite al Karama, which left the western Mediterranean island overnight is, thus far, the only boat in a flotilla organised by pro-Palestinian activists to successfully sail for Gaza, with most confined to ports in Greece.

The vessel’s passengers include Olivier Besancenot, head of the New Left Party in France, French politician and member of the European Parliament Nicole Kiil-Nilsen, and other well-known French personalities.

“We are about 20 minutes from international waters, and when we arrive there, the organisers on the boat will decide what their next move is,” Quentin Girard, a journalist with the French newspaper Liberation, told Al Jazeera from aboard the boat.

Girard said that the activists on the boat want to go to Gaza, but are waiting to decide if they will go once the boat arrives in international waters.

“I think they will go if the international committee for the flotilla encourages them to go,” Girard said.

Charges dropped

Meanwhile, the captain of a US ship, who was arrested by Greek authorities, was released on Tuesday and all charges against him dropped, Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal reported from Athens.

“He has not been fined for anything, and he is a free man. This after Greek authorities arrested him or detained him late on Friday as he tried to bring his ship out and take the passengers to Gaza,” Elshayyal said.

The Audacity of Hope, also part of the so-called ‘Freedom Flotilla’, set sail on Friday from the Greek port of Perama and was towed back to shore by the Greek coast guard.

“Many viewed that the case today would be indicative of how likely it would be that this flotilla would actually set sail altogether,” Elshayyal said. “And it seems that there is reason for optimism on the part of the participants, since now their captain has been set free.”

Greece’s coast guard said on Saturday that the captain of The Audacity of Hope faced charges of trying to leave port without permission and of endangering the lives of the boat’s passengers.

The US boat is one of nine vessels carrying several hundred activists attempting to deliver aid to Gaza.
Some of the passengers on the US ship have remained on board in solidarity with the jailed captain.

On June 24, an anonymous complaint was filed against the ship’s “seaworthiness”. The Israel Law Centre (Shurat HaDin), took responsibility for the complaint in the Israeli media.

‘No matter how long it takes’

Alejandro Fierro, an activist aboard a Spanish boat, Guernica, that is currently in port in Crete, told Al Jazeera that activists from his boat remained fully committed to going to Gaza.

“We have a few people on the boat now, and they will remain on the boat, in Crete, until they can go to Gaza,” Fierro said, “Some people are going back to Spain, but we are going to continue to keep our boat in Crete, and keep people on the boat, until we can sail to Gaza.”

Some of the members of the Spanish boat are currently occupying the Spanish embassy in Athens, and have hung a Palestinian flag from the balcony of the embassy.

“We will wait no matter how long it takes. We’ve learned patience from the Palestinian people who have been resisting Israeli occupation for 60 years, so we can wait. We are not going to move until our government makes some solution for the Greek government to let us sail away,” Fierro said.

“Activists aren’t taking this lying down,” Al Jazeera’s Elshayyal reported. “The Spanish contingent of the flotilla has occupied the Spanish embassy here in Athens and has been almost taking it hostage since about 12pm local time… So there is still very much a standoff from which no one seems to be willing to back down.”

Kayakers detained

On Monday, a Canadian boat, the Tahrir, was forced to return to harbour in Crete after an attempt to reach international waters was thwarted by the coast guard, according to onboard activists.

The Tahrir sailed 15 minutes out of harbour before it was intercepted, activists told Al Jazeera.

The coast guard ship pursued the Tahrir, using water cannons and eventually boarding the ship.

Ehab Lotayef, spokesperson and coordinator for the Canadian boat, told Al Jazeera from Montreal that the two kayakers and a Canadian-Jewish activist, Sandra Rush, whose name was on the boat papers, were being held.

According to Lotayef, everyone else on the boat remained aboard through the night. On Tuesday, the Greek prosecutor was on board taking statements from the activists.

The group of activists in Corfu seemed to have all but exhausted their attempts to comply with the necessary paperwork for getting official permission to leave port.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the Corfu group discussed staging local demonstrations against the Greek blockade of their flotilla, but did not disclose the nature of the planned protest.

Most activists in the group seemed to reject the idea of breaking out of port, while the captain of the ship said he did not want to copy other breakouts out of fear of jeopardising his sailing license.

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