International activists en route to break siege on Gaza

Mariam Mecky , Sunday 31 May 2015

A fishing trawler from Sweden is set to be joined by up to eight other boats as part of a third Freedom Flotilla

File photo of activists aboard a flotilla to Gaza (Photo:Reuters)

A fishing vessel has set sail from Sweden, as part of a new humanitarian aid flotilla to break a nine-year siege on the Israeli-occupied Gaza strip, five years after a first attempt ended in the death of nine activists.

A naval and land blockade has restricted the movements 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.

As part of the Freedom Flotilla III fleet to break a siege affecting the lives of up to 1.8 million Gazans, the Marianne boat set off from Sweden on 10 May, with nine people from Sweden and Norway, as well as humanitarian aid, on board.

"This move will serve to break the illegal and inhuman siege on Gaza," Charlie Andreasson, one of the Swedish activists currently on board the Swedish boat, told Turkish news agency Anadolu.

The boat is set to join other ships from Greece, Norway, Italy, Canada, South Africa, Spain and Turkey and expected to reach Gaza by mid-June.

Tunisia's former president Moncef Marzouki is among the human rights activists and politicians from around the world heading to Gaza this year, according to the International Freedom Flotilla Coalition statement released on Saturday.  

Over the past five years, activists from the International Solidarity Movement supporting Palestinians have repeatedly attempted to break the siege on Gaza by arriving by sea on “freedom flotillas” or by land through Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Five border crossings connect Gaza and Israel, while only one crossing exists between Egypt and Gaza at Rafah.

Up to 85% of Palestinian fishing waters along the Gaza coast are inaccessible due to restrictions imposed by the Israeli navy, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Repeated attempts

As part of the first Gaza Freedom Flotilla, six ships headed to the strip in May 2010.

Israeli forces raided the ships in international waters, killing nine activists and injuring dozens others on the Mavi Marmara ship from Turkey on May 31, 2010, sparking tensions between Turkey and Israel. In 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologised to Turkey over the attack.

In 2014, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou B. Bensouda said that, although there was a reasonable basis to believe that “war crimes” had been committed," it lacks “sufficient gravity" to come under ICC jurisdiction.

The Greek Coast Guard stopped the boats involved in a second attempt to break the siege in 2011.

A siege and three wars

Gaza  has lived through three Israeli devastating wars on the strip over the past six years.

Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza last summer alone killed over 2,200 people and left more than 12,000 others injured. More than 100,000 people were displaced.

About 20,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged in the most recent offensive, and most of the strip's infrastructure and buildings were destroyed, including schools and hospitals.

Since the last war on Gaza, the Karam Abou-Salem cross-border has become the only commercial port for goods and fuel to reach Gaza.

Rafah border crossing

Palestinians have traditionally used the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt to access education or medical treatment in Egypt and further abroad, but Egyptian authorities have kept the crossing mostly closed since former president Mohamed Morsi's ouster in 2013, citing security concerns in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, where Islamist militants have been waging an insurgency against Cairo.

On the rare occasions that the crossing is opened, such as last Tuesday, Palestinians are allowed into Gaza, but not out.

*Alia Soliman contributed to this report.

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