'Mercy ship' to arrive at Gaza today

By staff writers
January 13, 2009

A ‘mercy’ ship carrying European Parliamentarians in due to arrive at Gaza today on an emergency mission, carrying desperately needed medical supplies.

The Free Gaza Movement ship, Spirit of Humanity, left Larnaca Port yesterday afternoon.

Aboard the ship are 36 passengers and crew, representing 17 different nations. They are doctors, journalists, human rights workers, and five European parliamentarians representing Belgium, Greece, Italy, and Spain.

This voyage marks Free Gaza’s second attempt to break through the blockade since Israel began attacking Gaza on 27 December.

Between August and December 2008, the Free Gaza Movement successfully challenged the Israeli blockade five times, landing the first international ships in the port of Gaza since 1967.

The Israeli military violently attacked an earlier attempt by the Free Gaza Movement to send an emergency boat filled with doctors and medical supplies to Gaza.

In the early hours of Tuesday, 30 December, those on board said the Israeli navy deliberately, repeatedly, and without warning rammed the unarmed ship, the Dignity, causing significant structural damage and endangering the lives of its passengers and crew. The Dignity found safe harbour in Lebanon, and is currently awaiting repairs.

Shortly before the Spirit of Humanity left Cyprus, the Cypriot authorities informed the Free Gaza Movement that the Israeli government had officially contacted their embassy in Tel Aviv, and warned them that they felt “justified” in using “any means available” to forcibly prevent the mercy ship from arriving in Gaza.

At the request of the ship’s organizers, the Cypriot authorities searched the ship prior to its departure to certify that it only carried medical supplies.

Fouad Ahidar, a member of the Belgian Parliament sailing to Gaza aboard the Spirit of Humanity, responded to concerns that Israel may attack the unarmed ship. "I have five children that are very worried about me” he said, “but I told them: ‘you can sit on your couch and watch these atrocities on the television, or you can choose to take action to make them stop.’"

Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have injured thousands of civilians and killed over 900 people, including hundreds of women and children. The ongoing Israeli action violates international humanitarian law defined by the Geneva Conventions, especially the obligations of an Occupying Power and the requirements of the laws of war, say campaigners.

Huwaida Arraf, an organizer with the Free Gaza Movements, said: “We cannot just sit by and wait for Israel to decide to stop the killing and open the borders for relief workers to pick up the pieces. We are coming in. There is an urgent need for this mission as Palestinian civilians in Gaza are being terrorized and slaughtered by Israel, and access to humanitarian relief denied to them. When states and the international bodies responsible for taking action to stop such atrocities chose to be impotent, then we--the citizens of the world--must act. Our common humanity demands nothing less.”

Israel has been notified that the ship is coming.

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