Israel: agreement with Cyprus is "significant"

In continuing confirmation of our previous reporting about the Israeli government’s new appreciation for international law, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is now making an effort to explain the significance of the agreement it reached last Friday afternoon with Cyprus on how to delimit their overlapping maritime rights.

The Israeli FM explained in an email to diplomats that “An Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ can be claimed for up to 200 nautical miles off the coast of the State”.

But, the eastern corner of the Mediterranean is a relatively crowded place.

Therefore, the Israeli FM explains, “Of course, if there is less than 400 nautical miles between opposite states, as is the case between Israel and Cyprus, international law calls upon such states to come to an agreement to divide their overlapping EEZs, which is exactly what Israel did with its agreement with Cyprus”.

The Israeli FM noted that “There are roughly 230 nautical miles between Israel + Cyprus”, and said that the “median line method” was used to divide overlap. Continue reading Israel: agreement with Cyprus is "significant"

First Israeli negotiation on maritime boundary concluded today – with Cyprus

The first negotiated Israeli decision — negotiated, not imposed — was announced today from Cyprus.

The Associated Press reported from the Cypriot capital Nicosia this evening that “Cyprus and Israel signed an accord Friday demarcating their maritime borders to facilitate a search for mineral deposits in the east Mediterranean where huge natural gas reserves have been discovered. Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau signed the deal in the island’s capital. No statements were made after the signing”. This AP report is published on the Jerusalem Post website here.

This is an important and interesting development.

The main immediate interest is the formal division of the area where important deposits of natural gas have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean, and where several countries can claim jurisdiction.

“We could live by ourselves, and we could bring in American, Russian, and other exploration companies to help us develop our own undersea gas. But, we wanted to make it the proper way, and to make everything clear”, said a Cypriot diplomat in the region.

However, it is also a very important regional and international development.

It is Israel’s first bilateral negotiated agreement concerning its maritime space, including an “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) a relatively recent concept that evolved out of long diplomatic negotiations on an major international treaty known as The Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Continue reading First Israeli negotiation on maritime boundary concluded today – with Cyprus

Cyprus?

According to my first morning sms, the Lebanese Transport Minister has told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that the two boats planning to sail to Gaza — the Lebanese Flotilla — have been given permits to go to Cyprus.

He indicated that it will then be up to Cyprus to decide if these Lebanese ships can go to Gaza!

But, haven’t we just been through that?

Cyprus didn’t want to encourage the last three Free Gaza expeditions to sail, once the massive IDF Operation Cast Lead was launched against Gaza (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009):
X.) Free Gaza’s Dignity was rammed by Israeli warships on 30 December 2008, and limped to a Lebanese port for months of repairs. A formal Israeli naval blockade was declared on 3 January 2009 (just as the ground operation phase began).
Y.) Saying “We had no choice”, Free Gaza’s Spirit of Humanity decided on its own to turn around, “to save lives”, on 15 January 2009.
Z.) Then, after the Gaza war, Free Gaza’s Spirit of Humanity tried again, in June 2009. This ti.me, the ship was boarded and forced to go to Ashdod port, where the activists on board were detained for about ten days then deported, while its cargo was offloaded, some (maybe most) of it was sent into Gaza under Israeli procedures via Israeli-controlled land crossings.

Cyprus tried the same thing Lebanon is doing now — banning ships from leaving its ports if the declared destination was Gaza (which, the Cypriot government said, standing on a fine technical point, was not a real harbor).

So, the latter Free Gaza expeditions gave another destination.

When the Freedom Flotilla was moving, the Cypriot government finally issued a formal decision banning the ships from leaving its harbors if their destination was Gaza, because of the formal declared Israeli naval blockade.

Six ships in the Freedom Flotilla [formed by an expanded coalition including Free Gaza; Free Palestine (a group which split from Free Gaza due to siome ideological or tactical dispute); the European Campaign to end the siege; Ship to Gaza (Sweden) and Ship to Gaza (Greece); plus a large, very large contribution from a Turkish relief organization IHH, which apparently did have a small ad hoc group of men engaged to act as security on board the large (600+) passenger ship Mavi Marmara, with very ad hoc instructions to prevent Israeli forces from boarding the ship at sea] was stopped on 31 May by shocking use of force, and at least nine deaths on board the Mavi Marmara.

The MV Rachel Corrie, part of Freedom Flotilla but travelling separately and more slowly, went on principle straight into the same procedures (but it was smaller, and those involved on both sides acted with much more scripted behavior…)

Now, it’s going to start all over again?

By the way, it seems that the Free Palestine splinter or offshoot group (and not Free Gaza) is involved in the organization of the Lebanese Flotilla, which has been at pains to stress that it is not linked to Hizballah. (And, like many of those who don’t know and don’t have to deal with the reality of Israel every day, they seem to have exaggerated estimations of Israeli fragility…)

It’s true that this will now bring media attention, in a way that Free Gaza expeditions never did (even at the height of Operation Cast Lead), and it focuses on the core issues. But, lives are at risk, a lot of money is simply being wasted, and don’t we have to ask — if this is just a kind of kabuki political theater — isn’t there a better way?

Freedom Flotilla definitely on the move Sunday?

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.

Continue reading Freedom Flotilla definitely on the move Sunday?

Game changer: US-flagged Flotilla ship enters Famagusta port in northern Cyprus

“Now, it’s a mess”, one Cypriot diplomat in the region said Saturday afternoon.

One of the two U.S.-flagged ships (it seems to be Challenger One) has entered Famagusta port northern Cyprus today, saying they must pick up European parliamentarians who were planning to sail with the Freedom Flotilla on the Spirit, the boat that the Cypriot government grounded in Cyprus on Thursday night because it was planning to sail into Gaza’s maritime space, a zone that Israel has put under a formal naval blockade.

This entry of the Challenger, which is part of the Flotilla, into Famagusta is in direct defiance of the wishes of the government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Instead of “forcing its way into Gaza”, as the colorfully-spoken Israeli Yigal Palmor said in recent days, the Freedom Flotilla has apparently tried to force its way into Cyprus.

The Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union, while the admission of the Turkish communal authority in northern Cyprus, where Turkish troops are still stationed since the early 1970s, awaits a political resolution to the long-standing conflict on that eastern Mediterranean island.British troops are still stationed in British bases in the Republic of Cyprus, and the UN also maintains a peacekeeping mission along the separation line between northern and southern Cyprus.

For the Republic of Cyprus, northern Cyprus is Turkish-occupied.

Cypriot officials say that Palestinians — and their supporters — must not cooperate with an occupation.

(Cypriot officials have also, however, offered as one part of the reason for their decision on Friday not to allow any of the Freedom Flotilla ships to depart from Cypriot ports the fact that the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, which has an intense dislike for the Hamas authorities in Gaza, has not made any request for support for the Flotilla…)

It appeared, several weeks ago, that the massive Turkish support for this Freedom Flotilla expedition might have been a “game-changer” that would deflect Isrraeli opposition.

Now, however, the entry into Famagusta port of this U.S.-flagged ship, in defiance of the Cypriot Government which has supported previous expeditions organized by the Free Gaza movement has thrown everything into disarray — and may itself be a game-changer that ruins this expedition.

Battles over political righteousness may be very damaging in this context, and sow confusion. They also may cast doubt on the original and declared aim of bringing humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.

“This time, it is a game of secret services”, said one Cypriot official. “It seems that the idea is to force recognition of the Turkish Cypriot communual authorities, and if that happens, they’ll forget all about Gaza. And the Palestinians should not forget that the medicine used for one thing can also be used for another”.
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UPDATE: The Greek parliamentarians who were waiting in Cyprus to join the Freedom Flotilla are returning to Greece, according to sources in Cyprus. The Cypriot parliamentarians who were going to join the Flotilla will not, now. What the others will do is not yet clear…

UPDATE TWO: Free Gaza has just tweeted that four German MPs and one Swedish MP have boarded the Challenger that entered Famagusta port this afternoon, along with all the passengers from the Challenger that is docked for repairs in a shipyard in Limassol. According to Free Gaza, the Flotilla will leave for Gaza in the morning, and should then arrive in the mid-afternoon…that is, if the Israeli Navy does not intercept it.
Continue reading Game changer: US-flagged Flotilla ship enters Famagusta port in northern Cyprus

Freedom Flotilla minus one ship

Cypriot authorities have barred one boat from leaving its port today — it was the Spirit, the Free Gaza boat that was seized and boarded by Israel’s Navy late last June while attempting to reach Gaza. Those on board were detained — some for up to ten days — and deported.

Once the Spirit was released, it made its way back to Cyprus, and has been docked there since then. “Today they tried to take it and leave, and we didn’t allow them”, a Cypriot official said.

Cypriot authorities say they barred the Spirit from leaving because it was attempting to travel to an area where there is an existing naval blockade (that is, the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space, as defined by a map attached to the Oslo Accords; this naval blockade went into effect on 3-4 January 2009, and has still not been lifted, despite the separate but simultaneous cease-fires declared by Israel and Hamas on 18 January 2009).

Continue reading Freedom Flotilla minus one ship

Israel deports all but two Free Gaza activists captured at sea

Almost a week after they were confronted by Israeli naval vessels and towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, the Free Gaza Movement indicates that its activists captured at sea on board a boat flying a Greek flag and sailing from Cyprus to Gaza were “accused of entering Israel illegally”, but that all charges were dropped.

The activists refused to sign any documents in order to be able to leave Israel, they said on Twitter.

Former U.S. Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, and a former Democratic congresswoman who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, Cynthia McKinney is arriving back to the US on Monday afternoon via New York City. She wrote that ” The Israeli authorities have tried to get us to confess that we committed a crime… I am now known as prisoner number 88794 (in Israel’s Ramle prison). How can I be in prison for collecting crayons [for] kids?”

She will apparently be accompanied by the other Americans detained at sea on board the Free Gaza boat, Spirit of Humanity.

21 activists set sail from Cyprus a week ago on a ship laden with humanitarian aid.

Do a search for Free Gaza on this site to see our other posts on this story.

Continue reading Israel deports all but two Free Gaza activists captured at sea

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.

Continue reading Cyprus and the Free Gaza movement

Israeli Navy surrounding Free Gaza ship halfway from Cyprus to Gaza

The latest messages from the Free Gaza expedition, received about an hour ago, in the middle of the night (about 2 am local time) in the middle of the trip (halfway from Cyprus to Gaza) and in the middle of the Mediterranean (middle) Sea:

“Israeli Navy surrounding SPIRIT and threatening to open fire. ‘You Cannot Open Fire on Unarmed Civilians’.”

“Boat is in INTERNATIONAL WATERS. This action is piracy and is illegal under maritime law”.

“Israeli Navy Illegally Jamming Radio; Preventing Navigation Systems from Working. Israel WILL BE responsible for safety of passengers”

Free Gaza expedition warned not to try sea voyage to Gaza – but if it does, it will lose Cypriot support

The Free Gaza movement has been warned not to try to sail to Gaza — its latest expedition of two ships was supposed to leave Cyprus yesterday but did not, after Cypriot authorities required additional detailed inspections — but the international activists say they “will not back down from Israel’s threats and intimidation”

According to their latest update, maybe only one ship will go, but they will not be taking cement. They say they have a plan.

The activists said last night that “our ships were not given permission to leave today [Thursday] due to concerns about our welfare and safety. Our friends in Cyprus tell us that the voyage to Gaza is too dangerous, and they are worried we will be harmed at sea”.

In response, the group says, they intend to deliver a waiver “signed by all going to Gaza, that we absolve Cyprus of all responsibility for our safety” — and will set sail anyway today, Friday.

If it actually departs, this would be the eighth Free Gaza expedition from Cyprus to Gaza — and it might be the last.

The two boats in this expedition were supposed to be carrying “3 tons of medical supplies, and 15 tons of badly needed concrete and reconstruction supplies”, according to the Free Gaza movement, which began sea expeditions to Gaza last August with the express intention of breaking the seige — which Israel has since elevated into a formal naval blockade of Gaza.

In its latest statement issued Thursday night, the Free Gaza expedition spokespersons said that “The purpose of nonviolent direct action and civil resistance is to take risks – to put ourselves ‘in the way’ of injustice. We take these risks well aware of what the possible consequences may be. We do so because the consequences of doing nothing are so much worse. Anytime we allow ourselves to be bullied, every time we pass by an evil and ignore it – we lower our standards and allow our world to be made that much harsher and unjust for us all”.

They added that “The journey to Gaza is dangerous. The Israeli navy rammed our flagship, the Dignity, when we attempted to deliver medical supplies to Gaza during their vicious assault in December/January. Israel has previously threatened to open fire on our unarmed ships, rather than allow us to deliver humanitarian and reconstruction supplies to the people of Gaza. The risks we take on these trips are tiny compared to the risks imposed every day upon the people of Gaza”.

On Friday afternoon, the group indicated it was buying childrens’ toys to take with them to Gaza (in place of the cement, which Israel bans). But actually, childrens’ toys are banned as well — as the Israeli military-administered sanctions are said to be designed to allow in only the most basic supplies needed, a *humanitarian minimum”.

The Free Gaza statement says that “the American consulate in Nicosia warned us not to go to Gaza, stating that: ‘…[T]he Israeli Foreign Ministry informed U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv that Israel still considers Gaza an area of conflict and that any Free Gaza boats attempting to sail to the Gaza Strip will “not be permitted” to reach its destination’. Former U.S. Congresswoman and presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney [who is on the passenger list] responded to this warning by pointing out that, ‘The White House says that cement and medical supplies should get into Gaza and that’s exactly what we are attempting to take to Gaza. Instead of quoting Israel policy to us … the U.S. should send a message to Israel reiterating the reported White House position that the blockade of Gaza should be eased, that medical supplies and building materials, including cement, should be allowed in. The Free Gaza boats should be allowed to reach their destination, traveling from Cyprus territorial waters, through international waters, and straight into Gaza territorial waters. The State Department has chosen to advise us to take the Israeli notification seriously. Our question is, Can we take President Obama seriously? Will he stand by his own words and allow us to provide relief for Gaza or will he back down?’.”

Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire is also on the passenger list, which is posted here .

There do not appear to be any journalists on board — and there has been precious little media interest in this saga.

The groups’ statement added that “Cyprus has been a wonderful home for the Free Gaza Movement over these last 10 months. Cypriots know first-hand the terrible consequences of occupation. They too know what it is to suffer from violence, injustice, and exile. Since our first voyage to break through the siege of Gaza, the Cypriot authorities have been extremely helpful and understanding of our goals and intentions”.

Nevertheless, the Free Gaza movement is indicating it plays to defy the Cypriot authorities on this matter.

A Cypriot diplomat in the region says that there is no physical way the Cypriot authorities will 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.

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(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, there has been no movement at all on the construction of a seaport in Gaza.)

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While this technicality (the lack of a “port” in Gaza) was not invoked by Cypriot authorities during the earlier Free Gaza expeditions, there has been a powerful international effort in recent months to close all the loopholes.

And, the Cypriot diplomat added, “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.

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Israel allowed the first expeditions to pass, explaining that they did not want to give the Free Gaza activists a propaganda victory. But, toward the end of the year, Israel took an increasingly tough stance. During the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead (27 December – 18 January), Israel announced its formal naval blockade on 3-4 January, the day that the Israeli Army began its ground invasion. And, a day or two before the Israeli government finally agreed to international calls for a cease-fire, the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Condoleezza Rice, signed a formal agreement with Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — the consequences of which were not all fully and immediately public — to participate in naval activities as part of a global interdiction of arms shipments that might be used by Israel’s enemies, either in Gaza or by one of Israel’s main nemesis, Hizballah, in Lebanon.

Israeli human rights activist Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), who sailed with the first Free Gaza expedition from Cyprus to Gaza last August — and when he left Gaza by land via Israel’s Erez “border” terminal to return to his home in Jerusalem, he was arrested and jailed for his trouble. He was freed on a modest bail, and charges against him are still pending.

He told me recently that he was thinking of participating in this Free Gaza expedition — but that he had heard that “UN forces” were a second level of interdiction operating in the Mediterranean Sea, and might also try to intercept the next expedition. I asked the UN spokespersons in Jerusalem and at UNHQ/NY if they knew anything about this, but they all expressed astonishment.

UNIFIL is the first UN peacekeeping operation ever to have a maritime component. It was deployed after Israel’s most recent war against Lebanon in the summer of 2006. According to a UNIFIL press release, “an Interim Maritime Task Force was deployed until 15 October 2006, when the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force led by Germany took over. On 29 February 2008, Germany handed over command of UNIFIL Maritime Task Force to the European Maritime Force (EUROMARFOR) led by Italy. Under this arrangement it was for the first time that EUROMARFOR – a Maritime Multinational Force formed in 1995 by France, Italy, Portugal and Spain to carry out naval, air and amphibious operations – operated under a United Nations mandate. The EUROMARFOR held command of UNIFIL MTF for one year, first under Italy’s lead (29 February – 31 August 2008) and then under France (1 September 2008 – 28 February 2009). On 1 March 2009, France/EUROMARFOR handed over the command of MTF to Belgium“… This press release is posted on the UNIFIL UN website here.

The European Union’s Maritime force, EUROMARFOR, which has participated in various naval interdiction missions, actually took over command of the maritime component of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL, and operated under a United Nations mandate for one year — from 29 February 2008 until 28 February 2009.

I then corresponded with a spokesperson of the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) at UNHQ/NY, to ask if there were anything to this story.

Specifically, I asked, “Did either EUROMARFOR alone or EUROMARFOR-MTF intervene in any way with any of the Free Gaza expeditions (including the one that was interrupted by a forceful Israeli naval interdiction, after which the ship made its way to Lebanon for repair)? During this period that it commanded the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force (MTF), was EUROMARFOR involved in any maritime interdiction activity in the Mediterranean off Gaza?”

But the answer I received was this: “On the interdiction question, I daresay there would not be anything of the sort outside of Lebanon’s coastal waters, in line with Security Council resolution 1701 which defines the mandate of UNIFIL and its MTF.  I’ve also cc’ed colleagues at UNIFIL who may have suggestions/thoughts/insight on this”.

However, there was no further information forthcoming, either from DPKO in New York, or from the colleagues at UNIFIL.

Jeff Halper is not on the list of those aboard the two Free Gaza ships that were supposed to leave Cyprus Thursday.  He did not return a phone call Friday afternoon

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