Protest boat carrying European MPs arrives in Gaza Strip
European politicians sail to Gaza from Cyprus on third blockade-busting voyage.
A boat carrying a group of European lawmakers has arrived in Gaza port as part of a protest against the blockade of the territory by Israel and Egypt.
It's the third such boat trip from Cyprus to Gaza since August. The boat carries a ton of medicine and some medical equipment.
Organizers say they hope such trips will generate momentum to end the blockade. Gaza has been virtually sealed off from the world since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the territory by force in June 2007.
Among those arriving in Gaza on Saturday were former British Cabinet member Clare Short and a Muslim member of Britain's House of Lords, Nazir Ahmad.
The boat set sail to Gaza from Cyprus on Friday after the politicians aboard said attempts to cross into the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed.
Members of parliament from Britain, Ireland, Switzerland and Italy left the Mediterranean island on a boat arranged by a pro-Palestinian group seeking to highlight the poor living conditions of 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip.
"We were going to witness the living conditions in Gaza. We were not allowed through the Rafah crossing so we are going by boat because it is the only way to get in," said British MP Clare Short.
The parliamentarians said they expected to arrive in Gaza early on Saturday. It is the third time the U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement has sailed from Cyprus to Gaza since August, despite a blockade imposed by Israel on the Hamas-ruled territory.
Israel and the Hamas Islamist militant group agreed to a cease-fire brokered by Egypt in June. As part of that deal Israel has eased its blockade of Gaza, allowing in more humanitarian goods and medical equipment.
In August, defense officials expressed opposition to using force to stop the voyages to Gaza, reasoning that a well-publicized clash between the Israel Defense Forces and unarmed activists was exactly what the latter wanted.
The European politicians are taking a ton of medical supplies and three medical scanners used for spinal injuries, said Arafat Shoukri, 37, a doctor based in Britain.
"We are taking very basic medical supplies like paracetamol and painkillers. We were shocked when we got the list from the Health Ministry in Gaza, it means they don't have anything," Shoukri said.
International aid agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, have said virtually no medical supplies were reaching Gaza.
The ICRC had blamed that on a lack of cooperation between Palestinian authorities in the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction holds sway, and Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip in a violent 2007 coup.
It also urged Israel, which tightened overland border restrictions after the Hamas takeover, to facilitate timely deliveries of medical supplies and equipment.
Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005.
Short, a former minister in Tony Blair's government, said: "We want to witness the living conditions of these people, challenge the siege, and challenge the failure of our governments to uphold the Geneva convention.
"The whole of the EU is colluding in what is taking place in Gaza to our shame."
Organizers of the boat shuttle said more activists would travel to Gaza in mid-December, and a boat of European musicians would travel there in January.
Meanwhile, Gaza militants pounded southern Israeli territory on Friday with nine Qassam rockets.
Two of the homemade rockets struck an open field south of Ashkelon, others struck areas in the western Negev. There were no injuries or damages reported in any of the Qassam attacks.