New Flotilla Ready To Sail To Gaza


LEBANESE authorities have granted a Gaza-bound ship carrying aid and activists permission to sail to Cyprus as Gaza’s Popular Committee Against the Siege chief also confirmed that two boats are ready to cast anchor on Monday.

Lebanon’s Transport Minister Ghazi Al-Aridi said the Julia is now docked at the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli and can set sail once it is cleared by the port authorities there.

Al-Aridi’s comments were made in an interview with a local Lebanese TV channel late last Sunday and published in the press on Monday.

Under Lebanese law, ships cannot travel from Lebanon to Israeli-controlled ports as the two countries are technically in a state of war, the minister said.

Independent Palestinian lawmaker and anti-siege head Jamal Al-Khoudary announced the imminent departure of two ships at a news conference held at the fishermen’s port in Gaza City.

Al-Khoudary said that more than 480 women, including American nuns, had asked to join the all-women ship Miriam which will carry only 50 women. The other vessel, called Naji Al-Ali after the renowned Palestinian cartoonist, will carry only journalists.

Before the news conference, Al-Khoudary joined a demonstration at the Gaza coast to celebrate the Lebanese aid vessels. He warned that any attempt by Israel to attack the ships would only reflect the ‘Israeli occupation’s weakness.’

He added that Israeli claims to be easing the siege and facilitating deliveries of goods and humanitarian aid through border crossings are ‘another Israeli lie.’

A spokesman for the group organising the trip, Free Palestine Movement, said the ship would sail in the next few days.

Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gabriella Shalev, reportedly warned that these ships could escalate tensions in the region, citing a possible link between the boats and the militant Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, an UNRWA spokesman said on Monday that Israel must lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip to allow for full construction in the coastal enclave.

‘We need to have the blockade fully lifted,’ said spokesman Christopher Guinness of UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, speaking to the news agency on the sidelines of a conference in Cairo.

‘The Israeli strategy is to make the international community talk about a bag of cement here, a project there. We need full unfettered access through all the crossings.’

Guinness said he was not confident that the new Israeli system would resolve the difficulties UNRWA has faces in determining what can and cannot get through the blockade.

‘The list of restricted goods is a moving target. We are never told this is banned or that is banned,’ he said. ‘Israel’s blockade has become a blockade against the UN’.

Guinness also said Israel must open the Karni cargo terminal north of Gaza, which is large enough to allow industrial-scale cargoes of cement, building materials and aid. Instead, trucks are routed to a narrower crossing.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said last Monday that an Israeli security cabinet decision to ease certain aspects of its Gaza blockade was the ‘first baby step in the right direction of bringing Israel’s policy in line with its obligations,’ a statement read.

‘Though the implementation of the policy remains to be seen, any relaxation of the stringent restrictions on imports is to be welcomed.

‘However, this cannot be the end of the conversation. The goal is not to improve humanitarian assistance but to obviate it,’ B’Tselem wrote.

Under intense international pressure the Israeli security cabinet discussed ways to ease certain restrictions of the Gaza siege. A series of proposals were made on Thursday, and approved on Sunday.

According to a cabinet communique, the new siege policy will see a list of banned items published, which will include military equipment and ‘dual use items’.

‘Gaza needs to rebuild a self-sustaining economy, which requires import, not only of foodstuffs and commercial goods, but also raw materials for manufacturing, industry and agriculture.

‘It also requires a regulated system for exports, which addresses security concerns, as well as the ability for people to travel in and out of Gaza for all functions of daily life,’ B’Tselem wrote.

A report from Israel’s daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said metals and fertilizer were expected to be on the list of banned items to be presented to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the coming days by the country’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak and its Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

It will be the first time a list is made available to the public.

The new terms of the siege will be based on the Wassenaar Arrangement, ‘an international export regime that monitors the export of dual-use technology that can be used for both civilian and military purposes,’ according to the report.

The chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat has meanwhile said that Israel’s decision to demolish 22 homes in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem reveals that Israel seeks to destroy the indirect talks.

Erekat called on the international community to ‘halt these dangerous steps’ and said that the move ‘proves that Israel has decided to destroy the indirect talks with the Palestinians.’

The PLO official’s comments follow approval from the Israeli Jerusalem municipal planning committee to raze 22 homes in the flashpoint neighbourhood to make way for a national park.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, conflict erupted during the meeting between committee members and the residents of Silwan who strongly objected to the plan and demanded the committee discuss their alternative plan, which does not include razing homes.

Several lawyers representing the residents spoke out against the committee’s decision.

‘I also want to have a park in the neighbourhood where I can sit on the weekends and dip my feet in the water, but if the committee has the courage to approve a plan against the will of the residents, and to raze their homes for it, then it should have the same courage to discuss their alternative plan as well,’ a lawyer told the Israeli daily.

Residents have been pushing an alternative plan for the area that would see no forced evictions or demolitions, despite the re-zoning of areas to allow for a park. However, the initiative continues to be disregarded by the Israeli planning committee.

Israeli authorities say the homes are illegally built. However, several reports, including one issued by the EU in December 2009, reveal that since Israel’s occupation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, Silwan has received the least building permits from the Israeli municipality, despite applications, forcing residents to build illegally.

The Palestinian General Delegation to the UK said yesterday that ‘The municipal planning committee has not responded to the alternative plan presented by Silwan residents, drawn up by City Planner Youssef Jabareen of the Haifa Technion (and a professor at M.I.T. in the United States), to avoid all demolitions while allowing for tourism development.’

It added: ‘This provocative process is already inflaming local residents, contributing to recent riots, and causing incalculable stress and anxiety to 1,500 people living in the Bustan.

‘It comes in the general context of fast-track judaisation of the Old City, the Holy Basin and East Jerusalem generally, thereby pre-empting the possibility of Jerusalem ever being a shared city, or indeed capital of a Palestinian state. This of itself precludes peace.’