New Activist Ship from Sweden Sets Sail for Gaza

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Swedish ship, Estelle, left the Gulf of Naples Saturday in the latest attempt by pro-Palestinian activists to breach Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Estelle began its voyage from Sweden three months ago, stopping in Finland, France, and Spain to rally support before setting sail from Italy over the weekend.

With 17 activists hailing from Sweden, Canada, Norway, the United States and Israel on board, the Freedom Flotilla movement's spokeswoman Ann Ighe told Agence France Presse they're bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza aboard a "peaceful ship."

"We think it will take around two weeks to get to Gaza, but it will obviously also depend on weather conditions," Ighe said. "An international pro-Palestinian coalition organized the mission to carry humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip."

"When people think of flotillas, they think of the [Turkish-owned] Mavi Mamara," she continued. "But the Estelle is very different…It is a vessel that has travelled for Greenpeace protests and on fair-trade missions. The Estelle is a peaceful ship."

On May 31, 2010, Israeli naval commandos attempting to board the flagship of a blockade-busting flotilla (when its captain refused to change course) were attacked with knives, chains, clubs, and other weapons.

When it became evident their lives were in danger, the soldiers received permission to use live ammunition (instead of paintball guns). Nine people died in the melee, eight of them Turkish citizens and one American of Turkish origin.

Israeli activist Dror Feiler, who also sailed with the Turkish-owned flagship Mavi Mamara in 2010, is on board the Estelle.

"We hope the Israeli government will understand that there is no point in preventing us from reaching Gaza," Feiler told reporters. "Our flotilla does not pose a security threat to Israel."

"The sail is not against the State of Israel, but against the Israeli government's policy," he continued. "We believe it is completely legitimate and consider the blockade to be detrimental to both Israel and the Palestinians," he said.

He added that "we will try to protect our vessel with our bodies" if Israeli soldiers board the ship.

Despite the rhetoric, the activists know Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza port has not changed and no vessels will be permitted to breach the policy.

In November 2011, the Israeli Navy intercepted two yachts that set sail for Gaza from Turkey carrying about 30 activists from Australia, Ireland and Canada, with one Israeli Arab and an Iranian.

Israel believes delivering aid to Gaza is not the activists' primarily goal; rather they seek a confrontation they hope will embarrass the Jewish state.

Humanitarian aid ships are free to unload their cargo at Israel's Ashdod port for transport by land to Gaza. And Israel delivers tractor trailer loads of food and a variety of other goods to Gaza six days a week, amounting to millions of dollars in international aid flowing into the coastal enclave.

In 2011, Israel delivered more than 1.2 million tons of goods and in the first six months of 2012, 610,000 tons have been transferred to Gaza, the IDF told CBN News.
 
Meanwhile, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed joint responsibility for more than 30 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel beginning at 6 a.m. Monday -- the last day of the week-long Sukkot holiday.

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