The Scandinavian trawler Marianne arrived at the port of Messina in Sicily on Thursday, its last stop before heading to Gaza as part of the third humanitarian flotilla attempting to attempt to break the Israeli siege on the territory.
An Israeli naval and land blockade has restricted the movement of people and goods from and to the Gaza Strip since the Islamist Hamas movement won parliamentary elections and became its de-facto ruler in 2006, with severe consequences for the 1.8 million Gazans who live under blockade.
The Scandinavian trawler will team up with other ships from Italy, Greece, Norway, Canada, South Africa, Spain and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean as part of the Freedom Flotilla III.
Tiziano Ferri, the media coordinator for Freedom Flotilla III in Italy, told Ahram Online that the flotilla is expected to arrive in Gaza before the end of June.
“On arrival in Gaza's port we will donate the ship to a local fisherman’s union,” Charlie Andreasson, a sailor and member of the steering committee on the Marianne was quoted as saying on the Ship to Gaza website.
The first attempt to break the siege with a flotilla was organised in 2010. Israeli forces raided the ships in international waters, killing nine activists and injuring dozens of others on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. A second attempt was organised out of Greece in 2011, but the vessels were turned back by the Greek coastguard.
In an interview with Ahram Online, Taher Mukhtar, BDS Egypt activist, hailed the brave attempt to break the siege, highlighting that it is very important act given the current regional and international context.
“In all scenarios, whether the flotilla arrives safely or not, there will be political gains for the Palestinian cause,” Mukhtar said.
In response to news of the Marianne setting sail for Gaza, Israel announced in May that it would not allow unauthorised ships to enter its territorial waters, the Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post reported.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon called the flotilla an "unnecessary provocation."
The third flotilla has so far stopped at Palermo in Italy, Helsingborg in Sweden, Copenhagen in Denmark, Galicia in Spain, and Lisbon in Portugal, according to the Ship to Gaza website.
Tunisia's former president Moncef Marzouki is among the human rights activists and politicians from around the world heading to Gaza with the flotilla. Also travelling is prominent Swedish author Kajsa Ekis Ekman.
The journey so far has been smooth, according to the flotilla's organisers, with no problems from any port authorities.