Middle East

Gaza aid flotilla: Irish crew accuse Israel of sabotage

Shane Dillon, captain of the Saoirse, shows the damage on his ship in the Turkish port of Gocek, June 30, 2011
Image caption Irish activist demonstrates damage to the propeller shaft of the Saoirse

Irish activists planning to sail in a flotilla to Gaza have accused Israel of sabotaging their ship.

It is the second vessel due to participate that has had its propeller damaged while moored in a Mediterranean port this week.

The Israeli military is under orders to prevent an international convoy of ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists and aid from reaching Gaza.

Organisers want to challenge Israel's naval blockade of the territory.

More than 300 protesters on 10 ships, from North America and Europe, are due to join the latest flotilla. American writer, Alice Walker, is among those due to set sail.

Last year, nine activists on a Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, were killed in an Israeli raid on an aid flotilla. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

Following international outcry, Israel considerably eased its blockade of Gaza, allowing in more food and humanitarian goods.

Hoax revealed

Image caption Palestinian activists revealed the Israeli man's hoax

The Irish Ship to Gaza (ISG) campaign noticed problems with the propeller of their vessel, the Saoirse, while berthed in the Turkish port of Gocek. The group claims it was attacked "by saboteurs who cut, gouged or filed a piece off the shaft."

"Israel has questions to answer and must be viewed as the chief suspect," the ISG said.

On Tuesday, similar allegations of sabotage were made by activists on the Swedish-owned Juliano, docked in Piraeus in Greece. Israel has not commented on the allegations.

The departure of the "Freedom Flotilla 2" has already been delayed by social unrest in Greece and problems with insurance. It is now expected to set sail early next week, taking several days to reach Gaza.

Meanwhile, an Israeli man who claimed to have been excluded from the flotilla because he was gay has been exposed as a hoax.

"Marc" - who posted a three-minute video on YouTube - was later revealed by Palestinian bloggers as Israeli actor Omer Gershon.

An intern working in the prime minister's office publicised the clip on Twitter, and several Israeli government sites linked to the video before the hoax was revealed.

Israel on alert

As part of its preparations to stop the flotilla, the Israeli navy has been conducting extensive exercises and drills.

"We must be ready for all scenarios... the working assumption is that they could meet very violent resistance," said Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

"This is not a sea cadet ride or a pleasure cruise," he told Israeli Channel 2 television.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on the coastal territory when the Islamist militant group Hamas came to power in 2007.

Israel said it was intended to stop militants in Gaza from obtaining rockets to fire at Israel.

The restrictions were widely described as collective punishment of the population of Gaza, resulting in a humanitarian crisis.

On Wednesday, a new report by the Israeli human rights group, Gisha, suggested that Gaza would benefit more from being able to increase its exports rather than being allowed to import and receive aid.

It says 83% of factories in Gaza have either shut down or are operating at less than half their capacity because of the Israeli blockade.

The report says Gaza does not really need more aid, and the Gaza flotilla would be better off taking exports out of Gaza.

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