World Bulletin / News Desk
A six-ship convoy carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid for Palestinians set sail for Gaza on Sunday in defiance of Israeli threats about interception.
The ships, led by a Turkish vessel carrying 600 people, left a muster point in international waters off Cyprus early on Sunday. There was no estimated time for arrival in Gaza, which lies some 230 miles southeast of Cyprus.
"The flotilla is together and is on the move," said Greta Berlin, spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, one of the organisers.
The boats are expected to cast anchor at Gaza City's port on Sunday afternoon, and will be greeted by one hundred Palestinian boats, transporting Gaza officials, reporters and civil society representatives, Maan News Agency said.
The boats were forced to anchor off the coast of Cyprus this weekend.
Israel has already said it will prevent the convoy from reaching Hamas-ruled Gaza, a sliver of desert territory which Israel has imposed heavy blockade for three years.
Israeli naval commandos have held drills to practise boarding and searching the ships.
Activists face arrest and deportation, and their cargo will be confiscated for possible transfer by Israel to Gaza, Israeli military officials said.
Two passenger boats and the Challenger I, which set sail earlier, were said to have been damaged, organizers said, with one organizer telling the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth that satellite phones stopped working due to outside interference.
The flotilla was originally made up of nine ships - from Turkey, the UK, Ireland, Greece, Kuwait and Algeria -carrying roughly 10,000 tonnes of aid, including cement, water purification systems and wheelchairs. Turkey has urged Israel to allow it safe passage and say the aid is humanitarian.
The convoy of ships carrying some 10,000 tons of medical equipment, housing materials and other supplies are now waiting for other ships from several European countries off Cyprus island, Anadolu Agency said.
Israel has set up a holding camp for activists at the coastal city of Ashdod and said that any aid should be handed over for screening before being distributed in Gaza through Israeli-approved channels.
"Public relations disaster"
Berlin said Israel risked a public relations disaster if it tried to intercept the activists. "The only scenario which makes any sense is for them to stop being the bully of the Middle East and let us go through," she said.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that "It is also an international move of the civil society. It is completely a step taken with humanitarian purposes," Erdogan told reporters in Brazil.
"I think there will not be any problem if Israel shows a humanitarian stance to this humanitarian aid," he said.
Turkish Muslims showed solidarity with Gazans during Israeli war in 2008-2009. Erdogan has frequently criticised the Jewish state's policies toward the Palestinians.
Gaza's people, many of whom rely on United Nations aid, suffer shortages of water and medicine.
Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip, have said that the flotilla was about to make history, sending "a strong message that the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip ... will be broken".
Last Mod: 30 Mayıs 2010, 13:20