The first ship of an international flotilla aiming to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza and deliver humanitarian aid to the strip is being held up in an Irish port, apparently because of an Irish tricolour painted on its side.
Three cargo ships loaded with some 5,000 tonnes of aid and construction materials, in addition to five boats carrying around 600 activists from several countries across the world, will meet in the Mediterranean Sea and head for Gazan shores, where they expect to arrive at the end of this month.
More than 150 wheelchairs, a dental chair, blood collecting machines and hospital beds will be on board the cargo ships, as well as 500 tonnes of cement, prefabricated homes, medical equipment, school supplies, water filtration equipment and generators.
The launch of the first cargo ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, carring 1,200 tonnes of humanitarian aid, took place this week in Dundalk, County Louth. The vessel was renamed after the US peace activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while protesting home demolitions in Gaza.
A bottle of Palestinian olive oil was smashed against the ship in the ceremony as a “celebration of Palestinian land rights and international solidarity for justice and peace”, the ‘Free Gaza’ movement said in a statement.
A Nobel prize winning peace campaigner has joined the relief effort in the port town. Mairead Maguire, who was detained by Israeli authorities for one week before being deported during the last mission, is on board the MV Rachel Corrie.
However, the ship is still being prevented from leaving Dundalk by irish authorities.
Aengus O Snodaigh TD and Sinn Fein Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs said the delay was “ridiculous” and was hampering the relief effort.
The reason given by the port authorities was that the Irish flag on the ship must be painted over “even though this is an Irish vessel”, said Mr O Snodaigh. “I am calling on the Minister to immediately intervene and release the ship so that no more precious time is wasted.”
Speaking during the official re-naming of the cargo ship, Mr O Snodaigh also called for all Irish citizens’ support for the venture, in which he is taking part.
“While one ship of aid is a dot in the ocean to what is needed in Gaza, it is symbolic and it is a call on the international community to act to get the siege lifted and allow the Palestinian the right to live.”
In addition to delivering aid to the besieged coastal strip, the initiative’s aim is to break the blockade, which Israel has imposed since the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007.
The blockade has left around 325,000 refugees in the strip under “abject poverty, unable to meet their basic food needs”, according to UNRWA. The organisation also says that it has been unable to conduct “any significant repairs or reconstruction” since the 22-day Israeli military offensive against the enclave in winter 2008/09.