Flotilla Delayed, Conflicting Stories

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Amidst accusations of sabotage and delays, two of the 10 ships planning to take part in Freedom Flotilla 2 have set sail, according to the Free Gaza Movement, the flotilla's organizer.

The flotilla aims to break Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The Dignity, one of two French ship, left Corsica over the weekend, though it's not clear if the captain plans to rendezvous with the rest of the boats or try to sail directly to the Gaza Strip. 

Initial reports on the Irish ship, Freedom, said it was en route to the rendezvous point, but later reports said it docked at an unknown port in the Mediterranean to avoid a stop in Greece.

Organizers of the flotilla blamed Israel for sabotaging a propeller on the Greek-Swedish ship, Juliano, which will take several days to repair. They also claimed Israel orchestrated a request by two officials from the Greek Port Authority to inspect the Canadian ship, Tahrir, which had already been inspected, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Meanwhile, less than 300 of the projected 1,500 activists -- along with 36 journalists -- still plan to take part in the flotilla. Organizers attributed the reduced numbers, in part, to a lack of international support.

The State Department issued a travel advisory last week warning Americans planning to sail on the U.S. ship, "The Audacity of Hope," they could be breaking U.S. civil and criminal statues and face prosecution.

The American group responded from Athens, Greece, with a statement denouncing the advisory and providing a copy of their letter to President Barack Obama dated June 14, 2011.

On Wednesday, StandWithUs - an international advocacy group dedicated to educating the public about Israel - released a statement denouncing the flotilla, calling the plan a "hypocritical and dangerous publicity stunt."

"There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, as the International Red Cross and the European Commission have repeatedly confirmed," SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said.

"Israel, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and U.S. officials have all urged the flotilla organizers to cancel their plans and stressed that there is no need for a flotilla, as aid can be delivered to Gaza through official entry points in Israel and Egypt," the statement read.

Rothstein said flotilla organizers want to "bait Israel into responding militarily…to make Israel look like an aggressor."

"We hope that activists will put their energies into constructive actions that will help promote peaceful coexistence instead of joining destructive, dangerous publicity stunts like this flotilla, which lends support to the most repressive forces in the region, such as Hamas," Rothstein concluded.

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