Greece confines Gaza flotilla, frees U.S. captain
By Renee Maltezou
ATHENS (Reuters) – The captain of a U.S. ship arrested for trying to sail to Gaza as part of a flotilla aiming to deliver aid to Palestinians despite a Greek ban was freed on Tuesday, but three other activists were still in custody.
Just over a year after nine people were killed when Israeli marines stormed a pro–Palestinian flotilla, authorities last week banned ships destined for Gaza from leaving Greek ports to stop the latest flotilla "for their safety."
American John Klusmire, 60, captain of the "Audacity for Hope" ferrying mostly U.S. activists, was charged with breaching the Greek ban and putting lives at risk after being intercepted last week at sea by armed Greek coastguards.
"He is released, there is no charge against him. He is free to go," Adam Shapiro, one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement told Reuters by telephone from the port of Piraeus. "Our destination remains the freedom of the Palestinian people."
The flotilla, carrying about 350 passengers, was supposed to be taking tens of thousands of dollars of medicines, food, gifts and building materials to Gaza.
But the chances of any of the ships arriving in Gaza were increasingly remote due to the vigilance of the Greek coastguard and the rigid enforcement of the government's ban.
About 20 Spanish activists, from the ship "Gernika," occupied their nation's embassy in Athens Tuesday to protest against the ban and demand their government's support.
The Greek coastguard Monday intercepted the Canadian ship "Tahrir" which set sail for Gaza from Crete and arrested three people, including its 55–year–old Canadian owner.
ARRESTED ACTIVISTS USED KAYAKS
Another Canadian and an Australian activist were detained after trying to block coastguard ships from chasing the Tahrir by using their kayaks. Their cases are still pending and other activists refused to leave the ship when it docked in Crete.
Most of the passengers claimed to be the captain to prevent the actual captain from being arrested.
Israel said Monday it expected a "provocation fly–in" by pro–Palestinian activists who planned to board flights to the Jewish state and swarm its only international airport on July 8 as a protest, hoping to coincide with the flotilla's arrival.
"The planned provocation and its participants will be dealt with according to Israeli and international law ... the event continues attempts to breach Israel's borders by sea, land and air," a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Fearing for the safety of the flotilla and wary of regional tensions, Greece imposed the ban but offered to ferry the aid to Gaza in cooperation with the United Nations. But the activists turned the offer down saying that it was "insufficient."
Israel says its blockade of Gaza is aimed at stopping weapons from reaching the enclave's rulers, Hamas –– an Islamist group that is branded a terrorist group by some Western nations.
Nine ships had planned to take aid from Greek ports to Gaza along with pro–Palestinians from the United States, Canada and European nations, including the American writer Alice Walker and 10 members of parliament from different countries.
A French ship which had left Corsica was waiting for the rest of the flotilla in international waters, organizers said.
(Additional reporting by Yiorgos Karahalis; Writing by Peter Millership)
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