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Activists from the California-based Free Gaza Movement are planning to sail from Cyprus to Gaza in defiance of an Israeli blockade of the territory. The BBC’s Rachid Sekkai will be on board and sends his first diary entry.
About 45 people are here in the port of Larnaca in Cyprus, preparing to sail south to Gaza.
The group includes Americans, Palestinians and Israelis among the 15 nationalities represented.
President of the Free Gaza Movement, Greta Berlin explains the mission.
“This is a non-violent resistance project to challenge Israel’s siege of Gaza. Israel claims that Gaza is no longer occupied, yet Israeli forces control Gaza by land, sea and air”.
Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza after Hamas forces violently seized control from Fatah in June 2007. The squeeze is also aimed at stopping militants firing rockets at southern Israel.
No Israeli authorisation
The organisers’ plan is to enter Gaza from international waters without Israel’s authorisation, to recognise Palestinian control over its own borders.
Two wooden boats, Free Gaza and Liberty, will also carry a cargo of 200 hearing aids which are destined for children in Gaza whose hearing has been damaged by explosions and sonic booms.
Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who is now an international envoy to the Middle East , tells me she is travelling as both supporter and reporter.
“I dearly want to go to Gaza again to support the Palestinians and to show the world the reality of what’s going on there”.
Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein is making the journey – at the age of 83 – for humanitarian reasons.
“We intend to open the port, fish with the fishermen, and work in the schools”.
The organisers have been open about the risks involved in making such a trip.
Greta Berlin says if the first boat is stopped or attacked by Israeli forces, the passengers will use non-violent resistance, and the second vessel will follow “no matter what”.
Our pre-trip training has included lessons on how to behave if things don’t go to plan.
The departure date is a secret for our own safety. All we know so far is that the journey is meant to take 20 hours.