U.S. leftists confirm plans to sail to Gaza to break siege
Group has raised nearly $300,000 for voyage; organizer: Won't coordinate with Israel, it's not their land.
A group of U.S.-based activists confirmed Tuesday it would challenge Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory by sailing boats from Cyprus to Gaza next week.
The Free Gaza group said it would make the trip in two Greek-flagged boats, after raising most of the $300,000 needed for the voyage from private donations.
Paul Larudee, one of the event's organizers, said the group will deliver 100 hearing aids to a Palestinian charity as a form of humanitarian aid.
"Israel says it's pulled out its soldiers from Gaza so they should have no objection to us going there," said Larudee, whose group is based in El Cerrito, California.
"We have been in contact with the authorities in Greece, in Cyprus and with the Palestinians ... There is no reason to contact the Israeli authorities because we will not be using their territory."
About 40 people from 16 countries, including Israelis and Palestinians, would take part in the event, he said during a news conference in Athens, adding that private boats were also invited to join the activists.
Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza after Hamas came to power last year.
Free Gaza organizer Greta Berlin said the group had bought two wooden sailboats that had been renamed for the voyage: The 21-meter Free Gaza and 18-meter Liberty.
The boats will sail from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to Gaza on Aug. 6 or 7, Berlin said.
"Our primary reason is for human rights but we will also carry a small amount of aid - 100 hearing aids that will be given to Palestinian children.
She said one aim was to create a permanent maritime link between Cyprus and Gaza. The activists have prepared publicity events if the trip to Gaza is blocked by Israel, Berlin said, including the release of 5,000 balloons from the boats.
"If the ship is prevented from reaching Gaza, we'll stay for 10 days at sea ... Then we'll go back to Cyprus and try again," she said.
In 1988, the Palestinian Liberation Organization staged an unsuccessful effort to sail from Cyprus to the Israeli port of Haifa. The ship, named the Sol Phryne, was damaged in a mine attack in the Cypriot port of Limassol. A day earlier, three PLO officers were killed in Limassol by a bomb planted in their car.
That voyage had been timed to coincide with 40 years since the founding of Israel. Next week's trip will mark the 60th anniversary, organizers said Tuesday.