Operation Sea Breeze
Operation "Sea Breeze" is the Israeli code name for the martiime blockade of Gaza. The Free Gaza Movement organized at least four aid flottillas since the summer of 2008, typically including only one or two vessels. The earliest ones were allowed to reach Gaza. Others were intercepted and forced back, while the one in June 2009 was stopped by the Israeli Navy and towed to Ashdod.
The Libyan ship carrying aid for Gaza resumed moving toward an Egyptian port as Israeli military vessels shadow the ship's movement. The Moldovan-flagged Amalthea began moving Wednesday morning 14 July 2010 after engine problems caused it to stall in international waters during the night Tuesday. The ship's captain said the vessel is headed for the Egyptian port of Arish rather than its initial destination, Gaza. The ship's mission was apparently as much that of a blockade-runner as a deliverer of goods to Gaza. Contrary reports had circulated, some saying the ship's crew would dock at Al-Arish rather, with other reports quoting the ship's backers as insisting on testing Israel's resolve and forcing its way to the Gaza port.
Al Jazeera TV had reported on Sunday 11 July 2010 that the organizers of a Libyan-commissioned, Moldova-flagged, Al Amal [Hope in Arabic] bound for the Gaza Strip said the boat will continue its voyage to the Palestinian enclave despite Israeli warnings that it will intercept the ship before reaching Gaza. Yousseuf Sawani, a director of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, was quoted by Al Jazeera dismissing Israeli reports that the vessel was actually heading to Egypt. "This is definitely a part of the campaign against the ship, a campaign of distortion, but we are definitely heading towards Gaza, because this is where aid should be heading to," Sawani told the Doha-based network. Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who serves as director of the flotilla's organizers, reportedly planned to sail with the activists aboard the ship, which was expected to reach Gaza waters on Tuesday 13 July 2010.
As of 13 July 2010 it had been nearly two weeks since there had been reports about Iran challenging the Gaza sea blockade. On Sunday 27 June 2010 the Jerusalem Post reported that there were conflicting statements from Teheran about whether Iran would send ships to attempt to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Reza Shibani said Iran will send a ship with humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, denying reports that the Iranian flotilla had been canceled. The Iranian Red Crescent announced that the aid ship it intended to send to Gaza would be postponed after Egypt refused to allow vessels belonging to the Iranian organization from passing through the Suez Canal. The Iranian ship called "Infants of Gaza" had been expected to sail Sunday 27 June 2010 for Gaza carrying 1,100 tons of relief supplies and 10 pro-Palestinian activists but plans were cancelled "due to restrictions imposed by the occupying Zionist regime," according to Iranian lawmaker Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash. In Lebanon, organizers of the ship, "Julia," said they planned to sail "in the next few days" but said they had no Iranian connection. A second ship would only be transporting women, while a third ship would include parliamentarians from the Middle East and Europe, though it was not clear when that ship would sail. Hossein Sheikholeslam, head of the Iranian agency to support Palestinians, said "The costs of sending aid to Gaza has increased. As Israel has said it will confiscate ships, no company is prepared to rent their vessels."
On 20 June 2010, under international pressure, Israel eased the land blockade on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Israel's security Cabinet gave final approval to allow a long list of non-military supplies into the Gaza Strip. All food items will be allowed in, as well as kitchen utensils, towels, mattresses and some building materials. Israel said it wants to ease the suffering of Palestinian civilians, but it will continue to maintain a tight sea blockade on Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza.
Iran had announced plans to send two ships to the Gaza Strip via the Iranian Red Crescent. Another flotilla was also expected to soon leave Lebanon for the Gaza Strip. On Monday 14 June 2010 Iran's Society for the Defense of the Palestinian Nation announced its plans to dispatch a convoy of humanitarian aid to Gaza "next week". The deputy commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards says the elite corps had no plans to escort aid ships to Gaza. General Hossein Salami said reports that the guards naval forces were ready to accompany the ships were erroneous and that such a plan had not been on the agenda. On 14 June 2010 www.alertnet.org reported that a ship headed for Gaza left Iran's port on Sunday 13 June 2010, and a second one would leave on Friday 18 June 2010. One load of cargo would be sent to Turkey, and then shipped to Gaza from Istanbul, while the other would leave from the port of Khorramshahr.
On Tuesday 15 June 2010 an official with Iran's Red Crescent Society said that four tons of humanitarian aid would be sent to Gaza "within coming days". Head of the IRCS' relief organization Mahmoud Mozafar told IRNA that the aid including foodstuffs, clothing and medicines would be sent to the besieged area by Iran's first ship which is to leave the country's southern port of Khorramshahr in Khuzestan province in coming days.
Mohammad Ali Nouraee, an Iranian aid official, said that the ships would sail without protective security because the Iranians "do not want to fight", however he emphasized that "we are willing to become martyred in this way." The Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli Navy will operate under the assumption that groups of provocateurs are aboard any future ships that try to break the Israel-imposed sea blockade on the Gaza Strip.
In July 2007 the International Solidarity Movement announced plans to go to sea to help the new Hamas government in Gaza. This new effort on the part of the ISM was organized to deliberately help the Hamas break Israeli control of seaports. The ISM plan called for getting 100 international "volunteers" to sail from Cyprus to Gaza in two to six seagoing vessels with 12 to 60 passengers each. The prospective date was set for August 15th, 2007. By November 2007 the campaign was planned to take place from November 2007 until the siege is broken. By December 2007 plans were to set sail from Cyprus to Gaza in May of 2008.
- Free Gaza's missions were the first to challenge Israel's closing of Gaza when they sailed two small boats into Gaza in August 2008. Thousands of Palestinians greeted two Free Gaza boats in the port of Gaza City on August 23, 2008. Forty-three citizens from around the world, including a Greek Parliamentarian and former Prime Minister Tony Blair's sister-in-law broke Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in direct challenge to Israel's comprehensive closure on Gaza. Israel had warned the activists to stay clear but eventually made no attempt to disrupt their mission after Tel Aviv accepted they posed no security threat and that intercepting them would bring negative publicity.
- On October 29, 2008, for the second time, the Free Gaza Movement successfully challenged the siege of Gaza. The arrival of the "Dignity" in Gaza on October 29 was a milestone in the history of nonviolence. As Ramzi Kysia put it, shortly after his arrival in Gaza: "Our first voyage in August, the first voyage of any international ship to Gaza in over forty years, showed that it was possible to freely travel. This second voyage shows that it is repeatable, and this sets a precedent: The Siege of Gaza can be overcome through non-violent resistance and direct action." On board are Mairead Maguire, winner of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland, five doctors, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
- On 10 November 2008 the Dignity pulled into Gaza at 9:15 a.m. Gaza time after an uneventful trip from Cyprus. The 23 passengers and crew on board were tired but ecstatic that they'd arrived. The Israeli official described the sailing activists as "ridiculous people who play into Hamas's hands. They want to be stopped and they are looking for a confrontation, so we decided not to give them one." A drama involving the boats and the Israel Navy would serve the Free Gaza Movement's interest by attracting the media spotlight, the official said.
- On November 18, 2008 the IDF arrested 15 Arab fishermen and three International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists after their fishing boats veered into Israeli territorial waters. It was the first time the foreigners had been arrested since the pro-Arab "Free Gaza" movement began testing Israeli sovereignty in August. They had broken Israeli sovereignty four times by landing at Gaza without authorization and without interference from Israeli authorities before Tuesday's arrests. The Foreign Ministry originally said it did not want to create a media circus over arrests on the high seas.
- On December 1, 2008 Israel turned back a Libyan ship that was carrying 3,000 tons of aid goods that had sailed from a Libyan port. Israel had not intercepted the boats that Free Gaza Movement charters since they went through security check in Cyprus. The Al Marwa was stopped as it approached Gaza after leaving Port Said in Egypt on Sunday. The Navy radioed the vessel and ordered it to turn back, officials said, noting that force was not used. They understood that the navy was there and decided to turn around," said Andy David, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We have a very clear policy (on the blockade) which is constantly publicized." Israel, which had in the past allowed ships carrying humanitarian goods to dock in Gaza to avoid a public confrontation, said Al-Marwa had turned back without incident and that it did not know where the boat was headed. The ship, Al-Marwa, sailed instead to a port in neighboring Egypt. Libya protested before the UN Security Council over Israel's interception the cargo ship.
- On 07 December 2008 Arab Knesset members, left-wing activists planning to sail south from Jaffa in bid to 'break the blockade', transfer humanitarian equipment to Strip stopped by Israel Police. Left-wing activists and several Arab MKs were planning to dock in the Strip a day before the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) in protest of the "Israeli blockade" and transfer humanitarian equipment, including medications, food and toys.
- On December 9, 2008 a boat carrying humanitarian peace activists arrived in Gaza on the fourth mission to break an Israeli-blockade of the territory. Since August 2008 the Free Gaza Movement had made three additional successful voyages, each time bringing food and medical supplies. Between August and December 2008, the Free Gaza Movement successfully challenged the Israeli blockade five times, landing the first international ships in the port of Gaza since 1967. The "Dignity," a small yacht, docked in Gaza City carrying British academics, a British surgeon travelling to Gaza to volunteer in hospitals, international human rights workers and journalists. Israel had warned the activists ahead of all three previous journeys not to enter the closed military zone it maintains around the Gaza Strip but did not interfere with the voyages.
- On December 20, 2008 a boat chartered by Free Gaza Movement arrived at the fishing port of the Gaza Strip. The ship was the fifth initiative to break Israel's naval blockade on Gaza Strip.
Israel had not stopped activists from the Free Gaza Movement from sailing to the coastal territory in the past, but the territory was declared a closed military zone on 28 December 2008, the day after the start of Op Cast Lead , which consisted initially of airstrikes against Hamas security installations, personnel, and other facilities in the Gaza Strip.
- The Free Gaza boat, the 'Dignity', was rammed three times by the Israeli navy on 30 December 2008 while it was clearly in international waters, just a day or so after the outbreak of Operation Cast Lead. The Dignity departed from Larnaca Port in Cyprus at 7pm (UST) on Monday 29 December, bound for Gaza with a cargo of over 3 tons of medical supplies donated by the people of Cyprus. There were 15 civilian passengers representing 11 different countries/ The Dignity was surrounded by at least half-a-dozen Israeli warships. They fired live ammunition around the Dignity, and one of the warships rammed the civilian craft. The movement organizers pursued legal actions against the government of Israel for piracy on the high seas as well as damages to the boat.
- The Free Gaza movement aborted an attempt on 15 January 2009 after the Israeli navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board. That sailing came just weeks after an Israeli Navy vessel deliberately rammed another of its boats, almost forcing it to sink. Four Israeli gunboats said they would use their weapons if the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY did not turn back to Greece. Aboard the ship were medical supplies and 21 passengers and crew, including doctors, human rights workers, journalists, and two parliamentarians from Spain and Italy. Shortly before the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY left Cyprus today, the Cypriot authorities informed the Free Gaza Movement that the Israeli government had officially contacted their embassy in Tel Aviv, and warned them that they felt "justified" in using "any means available" to forcibly prevent the mercy ship from arriving in Gaza.
- On June 25th, the Free Gaza movement set sail on its eighth mission to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza strip. At 2 AM on 30 June 2009, almost eighteen hours into the 230-mile journey, the Israeli Navy was calling the Arion (the registered name of the ship) on the VHF radio. "You are navigating towards a blockaded area. You are hereby ordered to change your course. If you do not, we will be forced to use all necessary force to stop you." The Arion was boarded by force. Israeli commandos on four zodiac ships as well as eight naval warships surrounded the boat and came immediately towards the wheel house. Israeli Forces attacked and boarded the Free Gaza Movement boat, the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, detaining 21 human rights workers from 11 countries. Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Congresswoman and the 2008 Green Party presidential candidate, was one of 21 activists seized by the Israeli military in international waters as they tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Also aboard the Free Gaza boat was Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire.
- On 31 May 2010 a total of 9 passengers were killed, and dozens of others were injured, when Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla which had the declared purpose of breaking the blockade. The ship was led by a Turkish ship in international waters, about 60 kilometers off the coast of Israel.
- On 05 June 2010 the Israeli military forcibly siezed the Irish-owned humanitarian relief ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, from delivering over 1000 tons of medical and construction supplies to Gaza.
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