Free Gaza activists lose communication signal

The activists were the first foreigners to cross the coastal blockade and brought with them a symbolic shipment of hearing aids.

Free Gaza activists lose communication signal
A group of pro-Palestinian activists ran into trouble Saturday as they tried to sail through Israel's blockade of Gaza, saying their boats' electronic communication systems were jammed and the vessels were struggling in rough Mediterranean waters.

The Free Gaza activist group accused Israel of sabotaging 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.

A total of 46 members of the U.S.-based group were on the boats, hoping to reach the shores of Gaza on Saturday with a delivery of humanitarian goods for Palestinians.

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 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 communicate through satellite telephones and email 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.

In Gaza City's small fishing port, activists, reporters and musicians from a local scout group loaded onto a dozen small boats heading off to greet the vessels. Some onlookers waved banners and Palestinian flags.

Around 30 Gaza residents who had loaded into boats later returned to shore, complaining of sea sickness. By midafternoon, just one boat remained in the water.
Hamas policemen controlled traffic in and out of the port. Youths leaped off high rocks into deep water nearby. Two large tents were set up for people to watch the scene.

"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.

The 21-metre Free Gaza and 18-metre Liberty left Cyprus early Friday for the estimated 30-hour trip in a bid to break Israel's 14-month Gaza blockade. The 46 activists from 14 countries include an 81-year-old Catholic nun and the sister-in-law of Mideast envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Israel has led an international boycott of Gaza since the militant Muslim group Hamas seized control in the territory in June 2007. The Jewish state closed its trade crossings with the territory, while neighbouring Egypt sealed its passenger crossing, confining Gaza's 1.4 million residents.

Israel has allowed little more than basic humanitarian supplies into Gaza, causing widespread shortages of fuel, electricity and basic goods. Only a trickle of people are allowed to leave Gaza for medical care, jobs abroad and the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Under a June truce deal that halted a deadly cycle of bruising Palestinian rocket attacks and deadly Israel airstrikes, Israel has pledged to ease the blockade, but Palestinians say the flow of goods into Gaza remains insufficient and there has been little improvement in the quality of life.

Israel has periodically closed the cargo crossings in response to sporadic Palestinian rocket fire that violated the truce.

Reuters
Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Ağustos 2008, 09:48
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