Peace boats arriving in Gaza Strip shores
Two boats carrying international peace activists challenging an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip reached the shore of the Hamas-controlled territory on Saturday. The 44 "Free Gaza" activists from 17 nations set out on Friday from Cyprus in two wooden boats. Hundreds of Palestinians watched their arrival along the coast.
According to Reuters, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel said Israel allowed the boats to enter Gaza "in order to avoid a well-publicised provocation in the middle of the sea." "Because we know who is on the boats and what they contain ... we will allow them to land," Mekel said, adding there had been no contact between the navy and the activists throughout the voyage.
Several boats carrying flag waving Gazans met the seafaring activists just offshore and escorted them on the last leg of their voyage. "The arrival of the two ships after this adventure represents a big breakthrough in the wall of the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza," said Hamas spokesamn Sami Abu Zuhri as he watched the ships approach the coast.
Earlier, the activists were facing rough seas and disruptions to their communications.
According to Reuters, activists in Cyprus said Saturday morning communications with the boat had all but broken down since Friday evening. "The electronic systems which guarantee our safety have been jammed and scrambled," said Ramzi Kyzia, a spokesman for the activists, quoting from a statement received from the boats.
"Both of our ships are flying Greek flags in international waters and we are victims of electronic piracy."
Kyzia said the activists communicated the statement in the only satellite telephone connection they managed to make from around 1630 GMT on Friday. According to him, they were worried about communication in the event of an emergency.
The activists were experiencing rough seas and called on the Greek and international community to "meet their responsibilities and protect civilians on board," Kyzia said. "We are civilians from 17 nations on this project to break the siege of Gaza. We are not experienced sailors."