Archive for July 3rd, 2011

Freedom Flotilla Ready to Sail Despite Threats and Sabotage

By Bego Astigarraga

ATHENS, Jun 29, 2011 (IPS) – As the 10 ships of the Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human make their final preparations to set sail for the Gaza Strip, purported acts of sabotage have been added to threats from Israel.

The flotilla, which will attempt to break through Israel’s blockade of Gaza for the second year in a row, includes two cargo vessels carrying more than 5,000 tons of humanitarian aid, such as construction materials and medical and educational supplies.

One of the two participating French boats, the Dignity/Karama, is already in international waters, having set out from a port in Corsica on Jun. 25 to meet up with the rest of the convoy.

After the international coalition that is organizing the flotilla gave a news briefing Monday Jun. 27 in Athens to journalists from around the world to announce its plans to depart on Thursday or Friday, the passenger boat Juliano belonging to the Ship to Gaza movement was sabotaged in the southeast Greek port of Piraeus.

Divers cut the propeller shaft and destroyed the prop house, Ship to Gaza said, adding that its own divers had documented the sabotage on camera and that an initial inspection had been carried out with a view to repairing the damage before the planned departure date. “It’s one thing for a foreign power to press the Greek government to delay our voyage with red tape. It is quite another thing for enemy agents to operate on Greek territory,” said Ship to Gaza Sweden spokesman Mattias Gardell.

“It is high time for the international community to put their foot down and say: Enough!” he said in a statement issued by the group.

The Juliano, which is jointly owned by the Ship to Gaza organizations in Sweden, Norway and Greece, is named after Israeli actor and director Juliano Meir Khamis of the Freedom Theater in Jenin, who was murdered Apr. 4 in that West Bank city.

Israel started tightening its stranglehold on the Gaza Strip after the radical Hamas won the January 2006 Palestinian elections, and imposed a full blockade in subsequent years, especially after the Operation Cast Lead military offensive launched in late 2008.

Israel argues the blockade is necessary for security reasons, while human rights groups counter that the siege amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million mostly civilian residents and that it is illegal under international law.

The Free Gaza Movement, which is organizing the second flotilla, said Monday that Israel’s threats will not stand in the way of the humanitarian convoy.

“We will not be frightened by Israel, and we are going to continue. Our friends from all around the world are with us, and we are all going to Gaza,” said one of the flotilla organizers, Dror Feiler, an Israeli-born activist and musician from Sweden.

Greece is under pressure from Israel to keep the boats from setting sail, at a time of great vulnerability for the southern European country due to the spiraling economic and political crisis.

Vangelis Pissias, an organizer with the Greek delegation, urged the Greek government in a statement not to “become complicit in Israel’s illegal actions by succumbing to this pressure.”

“Israel’s best efforts to stop our boats at port, including pressure on governments, threats against insurance and communications companies, intimidation of human rights defenders, frivolous lawsuits and other underhanded tactics, have thus far failed,” the Free Gaza Movement said in a communiqué.

On Monday, the Israeli security cabinet ordered the navy to stop the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that forces would be ordered to do so “with minimal confrontation, as far as possible, with those on board the ships.”

Israeli public radio reported that the government had reached an agreement with Egypt to allow the flotilla to unload its cargo of humanitarian aid at the port of El Arish, to later be taken by land to Gaza after undergoing security checks.

Senior Israeli officials claim to have received information that there are “extremists” participating in the flotilla who intend to “shed the blood of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers” using chemical substances, when Israeli troops attempt to board the ships.

They also say that despite earlier reports, the ships will be carrying members of the Turkish Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH), which organized last year’s flotilla, and members of Hamas – both of which Israel considers terrorist organizations.

The Israeli government’s statements came the day after Foreign Ministry officials informed the cabinet that there was no information about members of “terrorist groups” planning to take part in the flotilla.

Israel used similar arguments before and after the May 31, 2010 assault launched by IDF commandos on the Mavi Marmara, the first freedom flotilla’s flagship, in international waters as it headed towards Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the military operation, and over 50 of the civilians on board were injured.

A representative of the relatives of the victims killed on the Mavi Marmara, which this year pulled out of the flotilla for “technical reasons,” will travel in the Spanish boat Gernika along with 45 Spanish activists, political representatives and journalists.

“Gernika will carry the spirit of our murdered companions,” Manual Tapial, coordinator of the Rumbo a Gaza initiative in Spain, told IPS. “It’s a show of solidarity with those who aren’t able to travel this year.”

Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Trinidad Jiménez urged the Israeli authorities to act with “prudence and restraint” towards the second flotilla.

The flotilla will carry 50 journalists from around the world – including this reporter – who were warned Sunday by Israel that they would face a 10-year ban on re-entering that country, although later the government backtracked on the threat.

The countries where participating activists are from include Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

A boat carrying participants from several Arab nations may also join from Jordan in the next few days.

Some 500 activists and civil society personalities are ready to sail. But there are worries that the Israeli forces will assault the boats using tear gas, water cannons, taser guns, stink and sound bombs and attack dogs.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).
Link: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56274.

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Jordan, US to perform joint military drill

2011-06-25

AMMONNEWS- Units and formations from the Jordan Armed Forces will conduct this month a joint military drill with the US side, the Jordan Armed Forces Moral Guidance Directorate said.

The drill will be attended by units from the land, maritime and air forces in line with Royal directives to upgrade capabilities of the armed forces and within the annual training plan of the armed forces.

Activities of the drill will also include seminar and courses in a number of fields.

Invitations were extended to 20 Arab and foreign countries to attend part of the drill as observers.

Source: Ammon News.
Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleNO=12561.

Arab-Israeli imam faces deportation from Britain

2011-06-29

British Home Secretary says unaware how Sheikh Raed Saleh – who was due to speak at House of Commons alongside three Labor MPs – entered UK.

LONDON – Arab-Israeli Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Saleh faced deportation from Britain on Wednesday after being arrested for entering the country despite a government ban.

Home Secretary Theresa May said arrangements had begun to remove Saleh, the leader of the northern wing of Israel’s Islamic Movement, and an investigation had been launched into how he managed to enter the country.

But Saleh’s lawyers said he had no idea he was subject to an exclusion order and vowed to “strongly challenge” attempts to deport him.

Saleh was arrested in London at about 11:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Tuesday after returning from a public event in the central English city of Leicester, one of several he was attending during a week-long visit, his lawyers said.

He had been due to speak at an event at the House of Commons organized by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) on Wednesday evening, alongside three opposition Labor lawmakers.

“I can confirm he was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is now making arrangements to remove him,” May said in a statement.

“A full investigation is now taking place into how he was able to enter.”

The Home Office could not confirm when or why Saleh was placed on an exclusion list, although press reports said it happened a week ago.

One of Saleh’s British lawyers, Tayab Ali, said his client had been arrested under a deportation order, which was issued “because the secretary of state considers the deportation to be conducive to the public good”.

He said Saleh had had no idea that he was barred when he flew in to London Heathrow at the weekend.

“He traveled to the UK using his valid Israeli passport through perfectly normal means. He came to the United Kingdom to attend a number of lectures and give a couple of talks in a perfectly normal and lawful way,” Ali said.

“We are instructed to strongly challenge the deportation order,” he added, on the basis that the original exclusion order had no merit, and because the deportation interferes with Saleh’s right to freedom of expression.

Sheikh Kamal Khatib, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement, blamed “the Zionist lobby in Britain” for pushing police into arresting him.

The detention was also denounced as political by another of Saleh’s British lawyers, Farooq Bajwa, who has been instructed to pursue defamation proceedings against two British newspapers who accused his client of anti-Semitism.

Bajwa said: “He feels that this is a campaign by the Israeli government and people sympathetic to them to exclude him even though he’s not a violent person.”

Saleh has had multiple run-ins with the law in Israel, including most recently being arrested at the border with Jordan after allegedly striking an interrogator.

In 2010, he spent five months behind bars for spitting at an Israeli policeman, and he has been detained on a number of other occasions, including in connection with an alleged arson incident.

He was also held after taking part in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that Israeli naval commandos stormed on May 31, 2010 in a botched operation that left nine Turkish activists dead.

The Islamic Movement is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance due to its perceived links with Hamas, as well as with other Islamist groups worldwide.

PSC director Sarah Colborne defended inviting Saleh to their event Wednesday, admitting that he had faced “horrific allegations of anti-Semitism” in the past but had “completely refuted” them.

Israel’s Arab community numbers 1.3 million, about 20 percent of the population. It is made of the Palestinians who remained after the 1948 establishment of Israel, and their descendants.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=46999.

Arab activists buy $800,000 boat for Gaza flotilla

2011-06-29

Boat is expected to join aid flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s five-year blockade on Palestinian territory.

AMMAN- Arab activists have purchased a boat to join a Gaza-bound aid flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s five-year blockade on the Palestinian territory, a leading Jordanian unionist said on Wednesday.

“Arab contributors have bought in Greece a 560,000-euro ($805,000) boat that can take up to 200 passengers to join the aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip,” Wael Saqqa, former head of the Jordan engineers’ union, said.

“The boat has been registered under the name of Nur company, established for the purpose of purchasing the boat,” said Saqqa, adding 35 Jordanian activists would join the flotilla.

The vessel was expected to set sail for Gaza on Thursday, along with other ships.

“But it might be delayed because there is a general strike in Greek ports,” Saqqa said, adding the boat would carry medical aid and construction material.

Israel has repeatedly said it is determined to stop the 10-boat flotilla — recalling a similar attempt to reach Gaza in May last year that ended in violence when Israeli troops stormed the lead vessel, killing nine Turks.

Nearly 300 pro-Palestinian activists from 22 countries including Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain are set to join the flotilla, among them a good number of middle-aged as well as elderly Americans and Europeans.

They are to be joined by 35 journalists from around the world, according to organizers.

Source: Middle East Online.
Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=46996.

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