Friday, May 21, 2010

Countdown begins for Gaza aid ships in spite of Israel

The İHH recently purchased a passenger ship, and it will be filled with medical equipment, medicine and construction materials to be used to repair schools and hospitals in Palestine. 

With two weeks left until a convoy of international aid ships departs for Gaza, the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH) is completing its preparations and hopes to break a years-long Israeli embargo on the Gaza Strip. 

The foundation is organizing a flotilla of eight ships, known as the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, which are set to depart for Gaza on May 23, its chairman, Bülent Yıldırım, noted. The İHH ships will be joined by 12 others that will set sail from a large number of countries including Venezuela, Malaysia, Germany, Italy, France, Greece and the United States.

The İHH’s role in the aid ship project was first announced last month with the motto, “Palestine is our destination, humanitarian aid is our load.” “We want this embargo to end. We broke it with an aid convoy [to Palestine] in December of last year. The aid ship project has carried the embargo back to the world’s attention,” Yıldırım remarked.

The foundation recently purchased a passenger ship from İstanbul Seabuses and Fast Ferries Inc. (İDO) to take a delegation of around 500 people to Gaza. .

Palestine is faced with an inhumane embargo that lacks any legal basis. Civil society organizations should take the initiative to break this unjust embargo,” Yıldırım added.

The Turkish ships will be filled with medical equipment, medicine and construction materials to be used to repair schools and hospitals in Palestine. Such repair has symbolic meaning for the country because Israel does not allow any construction materials to be brought in to Gaza, fearing they could be misused.

The İHH’s aid ship project is also backed by the Free Gaza Movement (FG), a human rights group that in August 2008 sent the first international boats to land in the Port of Gaza in 41 years. The movement called on the international community to support peaceful efforts for humanitarian relief activities for Gaza in a message on its website that reads: “We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation.”

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition comprises the FG, the İHH, the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza (ECESG), Ship to Gaza Greece, Ship to Gaza Sweden and the International Committee to Lift the Siege on Gaza.

The coalition plans to carry 5,000 tons of construction materials, school supplies and medical equipment, as well as hundreds of passengers from over 40 countries.

İHH worried about West Bank representative detained in Israel

The İHH’s West Bank representative, İzzet Şahin, was detained by Israeli security forces on April 27 as he was passing through a checkpoint in Bethlehem. Şahin has been in custody since then without any charges filed against him, and Israeli officials have announced that the representative will remain in custody for another week.

Şahin’s detention sparked concern among İHH officials, who are worried about his health. According to the foundation, the detention may be retaliation against the İHH project to send aid ships to Gaza.

Şahin was transferred to Ashkelon Prison following his stay in an Israel Security Agency (ISA) detention center. Nobody has heard from him since the day he was arrested. Israeli officials have given no reason for the detention of Şahin, who has been studying Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Şahin arrived in the West Bank on Nov. 28 for a number of foundation-related activities in the region, such as the monitoring of aid projects there. However, he was detained on April 27 by Israeli forces as he was passing through a checkpoint. He appeared before a court on May 6. The court decided to extend his detention period for another week. The İHH is engaged in all efforts to bring an end to his detention and bad treatment,” an İHH official said.

The foundation is worried that Israel will try to prevent the aid ships from delivering humanitarian aid to Gazans. It is, however, committed to breaking the embargo on Palestinians despite any preventive attempt from Israel or Egypt.

The İHH was part of a convoy of around 250 trucks carrying European, Turkish and Arab aid that hoped to enter the Gaza Strip on Dec. 27, 2009 -- the first anniversary of the start of a 22-day Israeli siege that left nearly 1,500 Palestinians dead and another 5,000 injured. However, the convoy faced bureaucratic obstacles from Egyptian authorities, which refused to allow the convoy to deliver the aid, both food and medical supplies, to Gaza via Egypt. The convoy was finally allowed to enter the Gaza Strip in early January.

Comment: The Palestinians are  HUMAN too.


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