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June 28, 2011 – ATHENS — The departure of a pro-Palestinian flotilla of international ships planning to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza has been delayed, largely because of the efforts of an Israeli advocacy group, both sides said Tuesday.
Ten ships are expected to head toward Gaza this week in a challenge to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which is governed by the militant group Hamas. All the vessels are insured and have been certified as seaworthy, said Adam Shapiro, a coordinator and spokesman for the flotilla.
Shurat HaDin, which describes itself as a civil rights organization, has also contacted about 30 maritime insurance providers to warn that insuring the vessels may leave the companies open to prosecution for aiding a terrorist organization, said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the director of the group. There have been reports that several vessels have been unable to join the flotilla because of insurance problems.
Israel has warned the flotilla organizers that it will intercept the ships and that its forces will defend themselves if attacked. The possibility of a confrontation comes a little more than a year after the Israelis stopped a Gaza-bound flotilla and killed nine participants on the lead ship, which led to widespread criticism of the Israeli blockade. Israel said the killings were in self-defense but subsequently eased some restrictions on Gaza-bound goods transported overland. Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza has remained in force.
Israel, the United States and the European Union regard Hamas as a terrorist group. Flotilla activists, however, say their intentions are only to assist civilians in Gaza and not to express support for any particular Palestinian political group.
In another setback to the flotilla, organizers on Monday said that the propeller shaft of one ship had been severed in what seemed to be an act of sabotage.