Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Boat Breaks Gaza Strip Blockade, Sails Into Port

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By Diaa Hadid

A group of European lawmakers sailed from Cyprus into Gaza Saturday, defying an internationally backed blockade of the Hamas-run territory with activists promising to send more visitors and goods to end the coastal strip's isolation.

Israel's navy did not try to block the vessel, Dignity, which made its third run from Cyprus to Gaza since August. The 23 passengers included 13 members of various European parliaments and an Israeli journalist, who will stay until Tuesday.

"We came on a boat. Many more boats can come. Let's have dozens of boats and then we can open up the siege," said Clare Short, a former member of the British Cabinet.

Parliamentarians and activists say they are not seeking to legitimize Hamas' rule of Gaza, which it seized last year after pushing out security forces loyal to Fatah. Hamas' takeover prompted Israel and Egypt to seal its borders with Gaza, only allowing in humanitarian aid and a trickle of commercial goods.

Instead, activists say they want to highlight the harm done to Gaza's 1.4 million residents.

The ship also brought a ton of medicines and some hospital equipment.

"Even prisoners have rights ... to have a life in dignity," said Lord Nazir Ahmed, a Muslim member of Britain's House of Lords, referring to the difficulties faced by Gaza residents.

Ahmed said Arab lawmakers were planning a similar boat trip to show their solidarity with the Palestinians.

Black-clad Hamas police on horse and foot secured the dock as intelligence officials in civilian clothing patrolled the area. Ahmed said there were plans to send more boats to the territory, including one that will carry Arab parliamentarians.

Shortly after the boat arrived, Hamas officials based in Syria said their group would boycott upcoming Palestinian reconciliation talks with rival Fatah. The decision was taken because Fatah did not release Hamas loyalists from West Bank jails, the group said.

The talks were to start Sunday in Cairo, Egypt.

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