Groups plan 2nd aid flotilla to Gaza from February

AP News
Posted: Oct 11, 2010 5:03 PM
Groups plan 2nd aid flotilla to Gaza from February

Pro-Palestinian groups plan to sail a flotilla of boats through Israel's sea blockade of Gaza as early as February in the second such attempt in less than a year, activists said Monday.

The activists, representing groups from over a dozen countries including Switzerland, Turkey and the United States, said the flotilla would be bigger than the one stopped by Israel earlier this year.

Nine activists were killed when Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara on May 31, prompting sharp international condemnation and two United Nations investigations of the raid. Israel said its soldiers acted in self defense.

"It's not about the aid," Huwaida Arraf of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition told reporters in Geneva.

Arraf said the aim will instead be to show that Israel's restrictions on the flow of aid to Gaza can be broken.

A spokeswoman at Israel's embassy in Bern, Shlomit Sufa, said humanitarian goods are allowed into Gaza by land and the sea blockade is needed to prevent weapons being smuggled in to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Several smaller ships have failed to reach Gaza since the May raid _ most recently last month, when a boat carrying Jewish activists tried to reach the densely populated strip of land between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

Among the groups planning to take part in the latest flotilla is the Turkey-based Islamic charity IHH, which sponsored the Mavi Marmara _ by far the biggest ship in the first flotilla.

A representative of the group, Ahmet Faruk Unsal, said IHH is considering sending another ship of the same size.

An American group, U.S. Boat to Gaza, is also planning to send a vessel, said activist Jane Hirschmann. The boat will be named "The Audacity of Hope" in reference to U.S. President Barack Obama's best-selling policy book.