‘Free-Gaza’ activists plan return to Strip within a month. ‘This might be the beginning of a simple delivery service, if we can set up the mechanisms here in Cyprus,’ member says
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Foreign activists who sailed to Gaza last week to protest against an Israeli blockade of the enclave said on Friday they planned to do it again within a month.
Most of the “Free Gaza” activists returned to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus late on Friday, a week after they set sail. They were the first foreigners to go to Gaza by sea since Israel tightened travel restrictions after the militant Hamas movement took control more than a year ago.
“We have roughly 10 of our volunteers in Gaza, and we have to get them,” said Paul Larudee, a member of the US-based group, which included members from 17 countries. “We need to get the passengers together, hopefully within a month.”
Israel allowed the 44 activists to reach Gaza by boat on Aug 23, saying it wanted to avoid a public confrontation. The group brought in a small quantity of hearing aids for children.
“This might be the beginning of a simple delivery service, if we can set up the mechanisms here in Cyprus. This can be used as a model for what can be made more permanent,” said Larudee, a 62-year-old piano tuner from California.
‘Gaza full of death and chaos’
Activist Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British prime minister and present UN envoy for the Middle East Tony Blair, was one of the activists who remained in Gaza.
Seven Palestinians sailed back to Cyprus with the activists, and included Sa’ad Mesleh, who lost a leg in an Israeli army attack on militants three years ago.
“I hope to get an artificial leg so I can have a chance at walking again,” said Mesleh, speaking to Reuters through an interpreter. He said he was hit by Israeli tank fire as he was in a family orchard watering orange trees.
“I don’t have a real life in Gaza, it’s full of death and chaos.”
Looking considerably younger than his 16 years, the wheelchair-bound Mesleh was put in an ambulance and taken to a local government hospital.
Cyprus, which lies some 240 nautical miles west of Gaza, is generally viewed as very sympathetic towards Palestinians. Members of a Cypriot peace group, with close ties to the present communist administration, met activists who arrived in the port of Larnaca on Friday.
Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt in June. As part of that deal Israel has eased its blockade of the territory, allowing in more humanitarian goods and medical equipment.