AGIOS NICOLAOS, Crete: The Juliano, carrying the Swedish-Norwegian-Greek contingent of the flotilla to Gaza, left the port of Athens at around 4:30 P.M. yesterday, after receiving permission from the port authorities and all other relevant Greek authorities.
Over the past week the ship's propeller, which organizers said had been sabotaged, was repaired.
The departure permit does not indicate Gaza as its destination.
It also emerged yesterday that the Greek Minister for Citizens' Protection, Christos Papoutsis, amended his order from last week prohibiting the ships in the flotilla from leaving Greek ports.
Sources at the local headquarters of the Greek coast guard here told Haaretz yesterday morning they were informed that the vessels could leave Greek ports on condition they were not headed for Gaza.
The flotilla's organizing committees said it views the change as a victory and as a sign that criticism of the Greek government's decision to ban the departures had the desired effect.
The Spanish ship Gurenica and the Canadian vessel Tahrir had attempted to set sail on Saturday and Monday, respectively. When the Greek authorities prohibited their departure, on various pretexts, coast guard vessels blocked the ships. The Tahrir was turned back to the port at Agios Nicolaos, where it was monitored constantly by coast guard boats.
The Swedish-Norwegian-Greek contingent has a cargo ship, Free Mediterranean, which was to carry 5,000 tons of equipment, mainly cement, to the Gaza Strip. On Monday, the contingent's accountant, who was in Stockholm, was informed in an email that the company that had agreed to sell it the cement was reneging on the deal and sought to return its 25,000 euro payment.
A Greek cement factory owned by the Swiss company Interbulk Trading had sold the contingent 3,000 tons of cement, which was paid for with donations collected over the past year from thousands of Swedes.
A letter from Interbulk specifically linked the cancelation of the deal to instructions from the Greek government not to allow the ships to sail to Gaza, and a letter from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Mediterranean states asking them not to encourage the departure of the flotilla's ships from their ports.
The company supplying the cement cited force majeure as the reason for the cancelation.
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