Cyprus bans all sailings to Gaza ahead of flotilla plan

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 23, 2011 12:24 PM
Cyprus bans all sailings to Gaza ahead of flotilla plan

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus said on Thursday it had banned all sailings to Gaza, serving notice to any pro-Palestinian activists who might use the Mediterranean island as a springboard to challenge Israel's blockade of the territory.

Activists are planning to send an aid flotilla to Gaza from ports around Europe this month, defying warnings from Israel which has tight sea and land border controls around the enclave.

There had been no suggestion that Cyprus would be used for sailings, but the Mediterranean island was the launchpad for earlier voyages to Gaza which started in 2008.

It invoked a ban last year, just before nine Turkish activists were killed in an Israeli raid on an aid convoy which triggered a crisis in already strained relations between Israel and Turkey.

Organizers say a new flotilla of 10 ships would sail for Gaza from ports around Europe on June 25.

Israel has said it will prevent any new aid flotilla approaching Gaza, warning that any challenge could have "dangerous consequences."

Activists had said in May that about 1,500 people from around 100 countries would participate in the flotilla, carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials to Gaza.

Cyprus's ban applied to locally and foreign vessels, and to individuals who may attempt to leave Cyprus and embark on a Gaza-bound vessel at sea, the island's transport ministry said in a statement.

(Writing by Michele Kambas, editing by Sonya Hepinstall)