Organizers of the Gaza-bound flotilla said yesterday they doubted the boats in Greece would leave port before next week, in the wake of numerous technical and bureaucratic delays. The main challenges include repairing the Swedish ship Juliano, which earlier this week suffered damage to its propeller in an alleged sabotage, and obtaining permission from the Greek authorities to leave port.

"There's no doubt we're in a complex situation here," said the head of the Free Gaza movement, Huwaida Arraf. "On the one hand there's the malfunction on the boat and on the other there's a string of lawsuits and complaints filed by various Israeli organizations against the flotilla, including claims that we don't have all the necessary permits to sail. Obviously, the domestic political situation in Greece, coupled with Israeli pressure on the Greek government, isn't helping, but I hope we can overcome all that and be on our way early next week," she said.

Arraf said that one flotilla ship, the Karam, had already left France and was sailing to an agreed rendezvous point offshore. She said the goal was for all of the ships to meet up and set out for Gaza together. "We are getting great public support from the Greek people, hundreds of peace activists and members of the European Parliament support us and speak out against the policy of their governments that are yielding to Israeli pressure," Arraf said. "As far as we're concerned, our message has already spread globally."

Arraf stressed that all participants have signed statements promising not to use violence or to attack Israeli soldiers. "We will defend ourselves but we will not try and attack Israeli soldiers, that's not our purpose," she said. "We don't want to see soldiers, we don't want them anywhere near us." Arraf herself has sailed to Gaza several times in the past, and was on the Mavi Marmara during the Israeli raid last year.

Meanwhile, the Israeli nongovernmental organization Gisha, which advocates for freedom of movement for Palestinians, issued an unexpected statement against the flotilla. "Gaza residents don't need more aid, they need to be able to export goods and to travel." In its announcement the organization said: "The focus on humanitarian aid by both flotilla organizers and the Israeli government is infuriating and misleading. There is no shortage of food in Gaza, but economic recovery is blocked by sweeping restrictions on the movement of goods and people."