‘Freedom Flotilla’ Heading For Gaza

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THE second ship to join the Freedom Flotilla en route to Gaza left Istanbul Saturday afternoon, joining eight other boats from three countries carrying 10,000 tons of aid for Gaza’s residents, supplies embargoed by Israel.

A statement issued by the Freedom Flotilla’s organisers said the latest ship to set sail is sponsored by the Turkish humanitarian organization, Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), and will carry 600 passengers to Gaza as part of the ‘blockade-busting’ flotilla.

Boats will meet in the Mediterranean, then turn toward Gaza to arrive at its beseiged slice of beachfront by the end of May. Free Gaza Movement’s MV Rachel Corrie is already en route from Ireland and is presently off the coast of Portugal loaded with cement, paper and supplies for school children and medical equipment, the statement said.

John Ging, Head of United Nation’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, said, ‘We recommend the world send ships to the shores of Gaza, and we believe that Israel would not stop these vessels because the sea is open, and many human rights organisations have been successful in previous similar steps, and proved that breaking the siege on Gaza is possible.’

Earlier on Saturday morning, a convoy of Israeli boats set sail off the Herziliya coast near Tel Aviv, launching an opposing flotilla displaying large banners of Iran and Turkey and photos of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with equals signs between them. Other posters say Hamas with bloody handprints on them, the street journalism news site Demotix reported.

Meanwhile, Israel began its yearly home-front security drill on Sunday, as Hezbollah began mobilizing along the Israel-Lebanon border in response to the exercise, various news agencies reported.

The drill, named Turn Point 4, is expected to last five days across Israel, the Israeli daily Haaretz wrote.

The Israeli army sent out communiques addressing the public to prepare for the drill over the past week, which will involve the army’s various command centres, emergency services and other governmental bodies.

The focus of this year’s drill will be a massive rocket attack against Israel.

On Wednesday, civilians will be included in the drill, after a siren is sounded at 11am throughout Israel, whereby civilians have to take shelter or cover, in preparation of an aerial attack.

During the exercise, Israel’s Home Front Command will distribute gas masks in eight cities in preparation for a future scenario requiring rapid distribution.

Also, on Friday, Lebanese media reported that the armed Shiite group Hezbollah began mobilising thousands of fighters in southern Lebanon in response to Israel’s five-day drill.

‘The Hezbollah fighters have been instructed to be completely ready to confront Israeli manoeuvres on Sunday,’ Hezbollah deputy head Nabil Qaouq said.

‘Thousands of our fighters will not go to the polls (municipal elections scheduled for this Sunday) and will be prepared from today’ for any eventuality, he added.

‘In the event of any new attack on Lebanon, the Israelis will not find anywhere in Palestine to hide,’ he said.

There was no official response from the Lebanese government on this issue, the Lebanese online news site Ya Libanan wrote.

Last month, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of providing Scud missiles to Hezbollah, charges that Damascus has denied.

The US administration approved on Thursday a plan to help Israel deploy an anti-missile system known as Iron Dome.

Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israel has trained in response to perceived failures during the attack.

• Surprising his Friday night audience at a political panel in Gaza City, senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar raised a machine gun mid-speech saying, ‘If we had these in 1948, we would be in a different situation.’

Zahhar addressed the panel on the subject of ‘milestones in the question of Palestine since 1948,’ and spoke of what he called the ‘fiascos’ of the Palestinian factions and the harm they have done to both resistance and the greater Palestinian cause.

Highlighting what he said was a tradition of Islamic leadership in the Palestinian cause, Zahhar said ‘Some Palestinian dignitaries with Islamic leanings were the very leaders who faced the British and Zionist forces with great rigor in the very beginning.’

Describing Palestinians slain in the struggle for a state as men and women whose ‘blood irrigated the land, and will not stop,’ he reminded listeners of early killed fighters like Sheikh Izz Addin Al-Qassam and Fawzi Qawaqji from Syria, Abdullah At-Tal from Jordan and Abdul-Qadir Al-Husseini from Palestine.

The struggles of the early figures ‘gave life to the Palestinian revolution and resistance fighters still follow in their steps’, he said, insisting that ‘a return home is inevitable’, but cautioned listeners that lessons must be learned from the past, and mistakes of the 1948 Nakba ‘must be avoided’.

l Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the deportation of a Hamas lawmaker from Jerusalem, then a Gaza-born man and his brother from their Beersheba home an ‘escalation…carried out under the cover of negotiations’.

In a statement released hours after the second and third deportations in two days, Barhoum expressed concern saying, ‘Lawmakers and residents are expelled in a continuing attempt to tamper with Palestinian demographics in areas under Israeli control,’ and accused the United States of ignoring the crimes in order to pursue its own programme of peace talks without taking into account real rights violations of Palestinians.

Barhoum said he considered the deportation of Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council Mohamad Abu Tier from his Jerusalem home on Thursday a ‘racist and dangerous tactic designed to expand full Israeli control over Jerusalem’, saying that the move came ‘within Israel’s demographic war on Palestinians’.

The official warned that the current Arab attitude over the expulsions combined with the apparent American insistence on overlooking the issue ‘will lead to the expulsion of more and more Palestinians from their homeland’.

Reports of deportations have increased since 13 April when two new Israeli military orders were put in place, expanding the definition of an ‘infiltrator’ to include any Palestinian residing in areas under Israeli control without unspecified permissions from officials.

The orders, 1649 and 1650, have been called sweeping and vague by human rights experts, and may be behind many of the recent removal of Palestinians from Israel, as well as the expulsion of a released prisoner whose family lives in the West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Palestinians have been deported to the Gaza Strip, and some allegedly to Jordan. It remains unclear which expulsions were carried out under the military orders.

In the case of Abu Tier, Israeli officials said he lost his residency rights for Jerusalem after participating in the Palestinian general elections in January 2006.