Docs and EU pols set sail for Gaza


A group of 30 pro-Palestinian activists including EU MPs and doctors plan to brave Israeli forces in a bid to deliver desperately-needed medical aid to Gaza by sea from Cyprus on Monday.

The Free Gaza Movement's last attempt to break the blockade on the embattled territory resulted in its boat colliding with an Israeli navy vessel and being turned back on December 30.

The activists insist their boat, which was in danger of sinking, was repeatedly rammed by the Israeli vessel.

"Israel's war on the people of Gaza is illegal and immoral and it's created a dire humanitarian crisis on the strip," Huwaida Arraf, a coordinator for the US-based group, told AFP on Saturday.

"The international community has failed to protect civilians there, so as humanitarian activists it is incumbent on us to do something," she added.

A Greek-registered 22-metre (70-foot) pleasure craft is expected to sail from the southern port of Larnaca on Monday with four MPs from Greece, Spain and Belgium on board and seven doctors.

Also packed on the "Spirit of humanity" will be tons of basic medical supplies such as bandages, IV bags and other medicines for hospitals in Gaza.

The boat is to be loaded with supplies and provisions when it docks at Larnaca port from Crete on Sunday.

Last month's attempt was the first unsuccessful mission to Gaza since such trips were launched from Cyprus in August. The organization also claims it has received death threats warning it not to try to enter Gaza.

Cyprus parliament speaker Marios Garoyian said Nicosia was backing the latest trip and called on Israel to allow the boat safe passage.

Free Gaza seeks to highlight the debilitating effect of Israel's stranglehold on the Hamas-ruled territory of 1.5 million residents.

Israel has sealed off Gaza from all but limited humanitarian aid since its offensive against the Islamist Hamas -- which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state -- was launched on December 27.

More than 800 Palestinians and 13 Israelis have since been killed.