Greek government "deaf" to Gaza flotilla activists' call
By Renee Maltezou
ATHENS (Reuters) – Activists, whose flotilla to challenge an Israeli blockade on Gaza has been confined to Greek ports, vowed on Tuesday to complete their mission but accused Athens of being deaf to appeals to let their ships go.
Greece, just over a year after nine people were killed when Israeli marines stormed a pro–Palestinian flotilla, imposed the ban saying it feared for the safety of the activists who are now trying to find a way to set sail for Gaza.
But the chances that they will reach their destination soon are fading due to the vigilance of the Greek coastguard which has intercepted two of their ships so far and is closely watching the other seven, moored in ports across Greece.
"We don't know (when we will arrive in Gaza). We are trying to build pressure on the Greek government to allow us to leave for any port. Then once we get out of the Greek ports we can direct the ships where we want," said Adam Shapiro, an activist for the Free Gaza movement.
"We are trying everything we can," he said. "But the government here is deaf."
A French ship which had sailed from Corsica was waiting for the rest of the flotilla in international waters but at one point had passed through a Greek port, organizers said.
The flotilla, carrying about 350 passengers, was supposed to be taking medicine, food and building materials to Gaza by the end of June, but a priority was to challenge the blockade.
On Friday, the Greek coastguard intercepted the U.S. ship "Audacity of Hope" just a short while after it set sail from Piraeus port, and arrested its captain.
Three days later, armed coastguards boarded the Canadian ship "Tahrir" which set sail from Crete and escorted it back.
ACTIVISTS SAY SHIP DAMAGED
Most of Tahrir's passengers said they were the captain to prevent the actual captain from being arrested, but its 55–year–old Canadian owner and two activists, who used their kayaks to block the coastguard, were detained.
Although all four detainees were freed, they still face charges for defying the Greek ban, which can only be lifted if the Greek Citizen Protection Ministry issues a new order.
The activists say that Tahrir's fuel tank was cracked during the interception and demand that Greek authorities repair it.
Spanish activists, from the ship "Gernika," have been occupying their nation's embassy in Athens since Tuesday to protest against the ban and demand their government's support.
"We've been here for about 27 hours and we are waiting for an answer. We are demanding the support of the Spanish government," said one of the activists, Anton Gomez, on Tuesday.
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.
In an effort to calm the activists, Greece offered to ferry the aid to Gaza in cooperation with the United Nations.
The activists turned the offer down saying this was "insufficient" as their mission was also about the rights of the Palestinian people and not just about aid.
"We are sorry that there was no response to our offer," Gregory Delavekouras, foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters. "It's still valid."
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou, writing by Peter Millership)
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