A month later after the Flotilla incident that caused the death of 9 Turkish activists and diplomatic tensions between Israel and Turkey, a new flotilla could sail on the water of the Mediterranean Sea to break the Israeli naval block on the Gaza Strip.
According to the organizers – the “Free Palestine Movement” and the Lebanese association “Reporters without Bounds” – the flotilla directed to Gaza could depart from the northern city of Tripoli, in Lebanon, within days or even hours, “carrying activists, journalists and humanitarian supplies”.
Last week Israel’s UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, warned the government of Lebanon and the international community that the attempt by the organizers to sail from Lebanon and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza could escalate tensions and affect peace and security in the region.
The UN resolution 1701 bars any attempts to enter Israeli territory directly from Lebanon. For this reason, so as not to violate the terms of the cease-fire resolution, the flotilla will have to leave Tripoli for Cyprus and then head for Gaza.
However, Ghazu Aridi, formal Lebanese Minister of transportation and public works, has only given permission to a French-registered ship – the Julia, renamed Naji al Ali to honour the most important and famous Palestinian cartoonist – to embark for Cyprus. After initial refusals, it is not clear yet if Nicosia is still barring the flotilla from entering Cypriot waters
During a press conference, Yasser Kashlak, a Syrian businessman of Palestinian descent who heads the “Free Palestine Movement” declared that “we have been granted permission to go to Cyprus and now we are in the process of making final preparations”. I am more and more optimistic – he added during an interview to al-Manar Television – that one day these same boats would take Europe’s refuse [the Jewish people] that came to my homeland back to their homelands”.
Yasser Kashlak’s past, his speeches and declarations reinforce Gabriela Shalev’s doubts about “a possible link between the organizers of convoy in question and the terrorist group Hezbollah”, but Hezbollah denies every possible participation and support to the new flotilla “because we do not want to give the Israeli enemy an excuse to carry out an aggression against Lebanon”, a statement by the group said.
The organizers didn’t announce the exact date and time of the ship’s departure, apparently in the hope of confusing the Israeli military about their intentions. But not only the date is secret, but also the number of ships that will take part to the expedition is still unclear.
The Naji al Ali has the permission to leave from the port of Tripoli, but there are rumours about a second ship called “Mariam”, that has not the permission to leave yet and that could have more than 50 women aboard. It is not clear that the ship even exists.
Zeinab Abdul Sater, a young Lebanese journalist that will take part to the Flotilla on board of the Naji al Ali, confirmed on a Skype interview the existence of the second ship saying that it will sail together with the Naji al Ali.
Though, as written in expedition’s official website, the Naji al Ali will board 50 Lebanese journalists, 25 foreign and Arab activists and humanitarian aid. Kashlak explained the participation of the 50 journalists saying that “the media has become the first authority rather than the fourth”.
The UN Secretary General declared he wants a greater easing of the Israeli blockade in Gaza, but a U.S. State Department release said on Wednesday, June 23rd, that “mechanisms exist for the transfer of humanitarian assistance to Gaza by member states and groups that want to do so direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances”.
Even if the date of departure was not announced, on June 30th the flotilla will probably leave Tripoli. Whether it gets permission to enter into Cypriot waters or not, a fleet directed to Gaza from Lebanon would be a further element of tension in the already unstable Middle East.