Greek Cyprus halts activists, Gaza flotilla hopes Turkish help / PHOTO

Greek Cyprus is on Saturday holding up aid ships to Israel-besieged Gaza as Israel threatened force to prevent them from landing.

Greek Cyprus halts activists, Gaza flotilla hopes Turkish help / PHOTO

Greek Cyprus is on Saturday holding up aid ships carrying 10,000 tons of supplies and hundreds of international activists to Israel-besieged Gaza as Israel threatened force to prevent them from landing.

Organisers of an aid flotilla, waiting to start for Gaza, said a departure decision would be taken later Saturday while they tried to get a group of European MPs on board.

On Friday, the group of activists tried to leave Cyprus on smaller vessels to meet the larger convoy in international waters but, Greek Cypriot authorities prevented the activists from leaving the island.


"Anything related to the trip to Gaza is not permitted," said Cyprus police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos.

Greek Cypriot authorities prevented activists from leaving the island on Friday.

"Turkish Cyprus help"

In Cyprus, the organizers were trying to find a way to have two dozen would-be passengers, including 19 European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor, join the ships anchored in international waters off the island.


The flotilla was to set sail toward Gaza on Saturday afternoon, in any event, and approach the territory on Sunday, about 24 hours behind schedule, said Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for Free Gaza Movement, the group spearheading the effort.

Berlin said the activists, including 17 members of parliament from Ireland, Bulgaria and Sweden, would attempt to meet the flotilla by departing through Turkish Cypriot state.

"We are bitterly disappointed with the Cypriot government," said Berlin.


Thomas Sommer-Houdeville, a French activist on one of the boats, said Cypriot authorities "last night (Friday) detained the captains of boats that were trying to take the MPs on board," adding that the mariners were released shortly afterwards.

Organisers have accused the Cypriot government of reneging on an earlier agreement to let the flotilla sail from its waters, citing Israeli pressure.

Greek authorities in Cyprus said the decision was made to protect the island's "vital interests" — including economic ties with Israel.


Organizers then appealed to the Turkish government to get the group out via a Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus port. Turkish Cypriot officials have said they want to help the group as much as they can.

"Israeli masked commandos ready"

Earlier this week, Turkey urged Israel to end the blockade and said it was using diplomatic channels with Israel to avert a showdown over the flotilla. However, Turkey's government has also said the sea convoy, arranged in part by a Turkish aid group, is a private initiative.

But, Isreali military authorities said that masked naval commandos would greet the eight ships deep out at sea, escort the vessels to port and give each of the activists a stark choice: leave the country or go to jail.

Some 750 activists, including a Nobel peace laureate and former U.S. congresswoman, have set sail for the Gaza coast in recent days, carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies.


Among the passengers are Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a Holocaust survivor in her 80s, a retired U.S. army colonel and lawmakers from a dozen European countries.

In Ashdod, authorities showed off three large white tents, equipped with computers and medical supplies. Officials said the activists would be identified, then placed on buses going straight to Israel's international airport for deportation. Those who refuse to go voluntarily will be taken to a nearby prison.


Meanwhile, in a statement, Bulent Yildirim, President of IHH, in response to Israeli military preparations said, “Let them do whatever they want in order to prepare for our arrival. We are not even carrying one little jackknife. We are purely a civilian and humanitarian initiative. We are not involved in politics .... We are not doing anything of criminal nature, why would Israel need to prepare a military operation to deal with us? Even the press in Israel recognizes that consequences of a possible interception to the ships will depict Israel as an invader. Hot debates on the embargo has been already ignited within Israel. People of Israel have begun to realize this worldwide known fact. Israeli politicians should realize it as well. They have to lift the siege.”



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