Friday, August 29, 2008

Palestinian Aid Boats Sail for Cyprus

"Boats with Palestinians defy Israeli Gaza blockade

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Two boatloads of international activists who defied Israel's blockade of Gaza set sail for Cyprus on Thursday, carrying seven Gaza Palestinians who had been confined to the territory.

Israel's navy made no effort to stop the vessels, flying Palestinian flags, as they ferried the Gaza's and dozens of "Free Gaza" demonstrators away from the territory's Mediterranean coastline.

The Palestinians on board included a father and his 16-year-old son, who hopes to be fitted with an artificial leg. Protest organizers said the youth lost his leg in an Israeli tank shelling incident.

The other Palestinian passengers were a mother and her four children who have residency permits in Cyprus, organizers said.

Several of the protesters stayed behind in Gaza. Another who did not make the trip was Jeff Halper, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who was arrested when he returned to Israel on Tuesday and released on bail Wednesday.

Israelis are banned from entering Gaza and from contacting Hamas, which is listed as a terror group, and Halper said he expected to be charged. Israeli officials had no comment.

"On Monday, I got Palestinian citizenship," Halper said. "On Tuesday, I'm already in an Israeli jail." Israeli officials said Halper's accepting a Palestinian passport did not endanger his Israeli citizenship, but emphasized that he remains bound by Israeli law.

Halper said he was not mistreated in custody, but he was threatened by Israeli prisoners because of his political activities on behalf of Palestinians.

"During this whole trip to Gaza, the only time I was generally scared was in an Israeli prison," he told The Associated Press.