Cyprus and the Free Gaza movement

The Jerusalem Post reported yesterday that “The Cypriot Embassy in Tel Aviv issued a statement following the incident, saying ‘The Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Israel would like to inform that the “Spirit of Humanity” boat, sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement, that attempted in the early hours today to reach Gaza was given permission by the competent Authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to sail off the port of Larnaca in Cyprus on the basis of its declaration that its intended destination was the port of Port Said in Egypt’.” This JPost report is posted here .

A Cypriot diplomat in the region said that “They signed and they said they were going to Port Said. With that destination, they were covered by international law all the way”.

Of course, the Free Gaza activists always said publicly that their destination was Gaza, and they were determined to go to Gaza.

This diplomat had earlier indicated, as we reportedhere, that “we cannot stop them, if they tell us they’re going to Crete, or someplace else, then change once they’re at sea and head toward Gaza”. But, he added, if they do so, they will lose their base of support in Cyprus.

This diplomat said, at the time, that there was no physical way the Cypriot authorities wouldl try to stop this Free Gaza expedition from leaving port, if they intend to do so. But it would be a violation of Cypriot law or regulations, he indicated, because there is no “port” at the Free Gaza expedition’s destination in Gaza.

(n.b. There is a little fishing port in Gaza City, but not a real seaport. The Agreement on Movement and Access [to Gaza] that former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to become involved with negotiating — staying up all night on her birthday, 15 November 2005 — stated that “Construction of a seaport can commence. The GoI [Government of Israel] will undertake to assure donors that it will not interfere with operation of the port”. But, so far, espcially because of the sanctions imposed on Gaza, and now of course with the formal naval blockade, there has been no movement at all on the construction of a seaport in Gaza.)

Today, the Cypriot diplomat explained that “We told them they cannot use Cyprus as a base to establish a formal line to Gaza[to transport humanitarian goods to Gaza, and also not incidentally to move Gazans in and out] because there is no legal port there, no insurance will cover them, there is no law there, and they would in effect be operating as a sort of piracy, entering a pronounced military zone declared by somebody else”

The Cypriot diplomat said that Cyprus is not angry with the Free Gaza activists: “No, we are not angry. Why should we be? We can understand the humanitarian side of what they are trying to do. It is completely understood. On the other hand, you cannot play with the lives of people. You cannot let them go, knowing their lives are in danger. Officially, how could we let them go to Gaza?”

The Free Gaza activists that were towed in the Spirit of Humanity to Ashdod Port yesterday and taken into Israeli immigration custody have apparently still not been released.

Ynet reported yesterday that “Israel is planning to deport within the next few days the 21 peace activists who arrived on a boat from Cyprus with the intention of entering the Gaza Strip. An Israeli Navy unit boarded their boat and escorted it to Ashdod port. Immigration police will transport the detained activists to Ben Gurion Airport, and from there they will be deported out of the country … Eight immigration police arrived at Ashdod police and performed a search of the activists’ belongings. The detainees will then be transferred to the Immigration Administration in Holon. The police will take their fingerprints, and then send them to Ben Gurion Airport, where each one will face a hearing before the Interior Ministry before being deported”

YNet added that “Among the peace activists are two Israeli-American citizens, and 19 others, including five from Ireland, three from Britain, five from Bahrain, three Americans, and Danish, Jordan, and Yemenite citizens.”

Are the Israeli authorities going to deport the Israeli-Americans?

YNet added that Gerta Berlin, founder of Movement for the Freedom of Gaza, who was contacted in Larnaca, Cyprus, said that “The Israeli government does not understand that time is on our side. In the meantime, the administration is losing public support. It would be much smarter on their part if they would simply turn the other cheek and let us
through. The detainment of the boat only works in our favor in the long run”.

The Free Gaza movement’s latest Tweet says: “No word where passengers are. Only a few text messages”.

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