After some confusing statements Saturday evening – possibly deliberately misleading – the Freedom Flotilla is moving towards what will almost certainly be a confrontation somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean with Israeli Naval forces that the Israeli Government has ordered to stop the Flotilla.
Israel still has time to change its mind, however. But, it has been busy bombing Gaza — including the already-damaged-to-the-point-of-inoperability, and only, Palestinian airport which is located near Kerem Shalom.
Five ships reportedly left their meeting point in the Mediterranean between Cyprus and Lebanon either at 5am or at 8am on Sunday [See updates below for an account of all the subsequent delays]
The Free Gaza movement is now reporting that the Challenger One (which went to Famagusta port Saturday to pick up some 5 members of the European Parliament + the passengers from Challenger Two which is still being repaired in a shipyard in Limassol) has re-joined the group. There are now six ships travelling together.
The Rachel Corrie, owned by the Free Gaza movement and which sailed from Ireland, would be the seventh ship in the Flotilla, is loaded with cement and other reconstruction supplies, is travelling much more slowly, and was reported to be in Libya, in the southern Mediterranean, on Saturday.
(The Spirit and Challenger Two are still in Cyprus and may not leave, if their destination is the zone of Israeli naval blockade in Gaza’s territorial waters, by an order of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.)
While participants have praised the organizational skills of the largest participant in the Freedom Flotilla, which is the Turkish humanitarian relief organization IHH, it is also evident that the decisions and the details are much less transparent than the 8 sea expeditions previously organized and dispatched by the Free Gaza movement (one of the participants in this Freedom Flotilla).
Kevin Ovinden, a member of Viva Palestina who is on board the Freedom Flotilla, has written this morning here that three of the boats sailing this morning are Turkish, and two came from Athens (the Challenger is U.S.-flagged): “They are larger boats and the clear lesson is that for such an operation a few larger and well fitted vessels are more effective than a larger number of smaller boats. A coalition of organisations and initiatives has come together in this flotilla, but the Turkish IHH has set the standard by raising around 20 million USD and setting about the mission with elan, peerless organisation and a collegiate approach that belies the extent to which they are responsible for the impressive force that is gathered now in the Eastern Mediterranean”.
Earlier, I said I assumed that all the participants on the Flotilla were adults. But yesterday, in a live feed broadcast on the IHH website, coming from the large Turkish passenger ship Mavi Marmara, I saw a baby — less than a year old — in the arms of one of the ship’s crew members.
Estimated arrival time (either in Gaza or at the point of confrontation with the Israeli Navy) is anywhere between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning.
UPDATE: Free Gaza has just tweeted, at ten minutes to two, that the Freedom Flotilla will depart between 2:00 and 3:00 this afternoon, and reach their destination in Gaza on Monday morning.
UPDATE TWO: Now, at about 5:45 in the evening, the Free Gaza movement says they left a half hour ago.
The IHH website, however, quotes the relief organzation’s head, Bulent Yildirim, as saying: “We are going to set sail towards Gaza in due course of time. There is no need to rush, we are waiting for the right time. We prefer keeping the answer to this question to ourselves at the moment, I am sure that Israel is eager to know the answer as well … The youngest passenger onboard these ships is only one year old. There are people in their 80s onboard as well. If Israel wants to run the risk of attacking these ships, they may do so. In case of an attack, we are going to carry out nonviolent resistance. We do not even have a jackknife here, but we will not let the Israeli soldiers onboard this ship … If Israel was a democratic state, it would allow this flotilla and let the humanity win. It would not intercept. However, they took this campaign as an insult to their honor because it is a military state. Israeli ministers followed a horrible way of reasoning. Normally, this flotilla would not have received this much publicity”. This summary of Yildirim’s remarks at a press conference on board the Mavi Marmara can be read in full here.
UPDATE THREE: The Jerusalem Post quoted Israel Radio as saying that the Flotilla stopped ten minutes into its voyage because of a “technical glitch”…