Flotilla III alert: Ship to Gaza nears Portuguese shores

Alia Soliman , Tuesday 2 Jun 2015

Israel has called the latest attempt to break a nine-year naval blockade on the Gaza strip an 'unnecessary provocation'

Marianne, the Scandinavian trawler (Photo:Courtesy of Ship to Gaza)

A Scandinavian fishing trawler has approached the coasts of Portugal on its way to break a nine-year siege on the Gaza strip, amid warnings from the Israeli authorities, the activist group behind the ship has said.

Marianne, the Scandinavian trawler, is expected to arrive in Lisbon, Portugal at 3pm (GMT) on Wednesday, docking for two weeks in Lisbon port, media co-ordinator of the Ship to Gaza organisation Staffan Granér told Ahram Online in a phone conversation from Sweden.

The Scandinavian boat, which set sail from Sweden on 10 May, aims to converge with other boats from Greece, Norway, Italy, Canada, South Africa, Spain and Turkey to form the third Freedom Flotilla since 2010 to attempt to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory under siege.

A naval and land blockade has restricted the movements of people and goods from and to the Gaza strip, which is home to over 1.7 million Palestinians, since the Islamist Hamas movement won parliamentary elections and became its de-facto ruler in 2006.

In response to news of the Marianne setting sail for Gaza, Israel stated on 14 May that it would not allow unauthorised ships to enter its territorial waters, as mentioned in the Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon called the flotilla an "unnecessary provocation".

"If the so-called helpful Gaza flotillas were really interested in the welfare of the population in Gaza, they would send their aid via Israel," Nachshon added.

When they arrive in Portugal, the nine activists on board the Swedish ship, who include Danish and Norwegian members of parliament,  plan to hold cultural shows and screen a documentary on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish boat that was part of the the first major attempt to reach Gaza shores in May 2010. The Israeli military raided the ship in international waters, killing nine activists and injuring dozens others.

The latest Freedom Flotilla is the third attempt to break the siege on Gaza. A second attempt to break the siege on Gaza was organized out of Greece in 2011, but the vessels were turned back by the Greek coastguard.

The third flotilla has so far stopped at the Helsingborg port in Sweden, the Copenhagen port in Denmark and the Galicia port in Spain, according to the Ship to Gaza website.

Tunisia's former president Moncef Marzouki is expected to join the flotilla, according to Granér, who expects the flotilla to arrive in Gaza by the last week of June.

So far, the Marianne has not encountered any problems from any authorities, he said. Only normal inspections of the trawler were conducted by port authorities.

"The only problems that faced the activists at the beginning were technical problems, related to the engineering of the trawler," Granér said.

To follow latest news on the route of Flotilla III, readers can log on to the Ship to Gaza interactive blog.

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