Sneaks out of Greece waters in spite of ban on departure

A lone French yacht was on Wednesday headed for Gaza after sneaking out of Greek waters in defiance of a ban on the departure of aid ships aiming to run Israel's blockade on the coastal strip.

The MV Dignite/Al Karama, which left Greek waters early on Tuesday, is heading slowly towards Gaza, a spokesman for the French Boat to Gaza campaign told AFP, saying they had not yet given up hope they would be joined by others from the ill-fated Freedom Flotilla which had been due to set sail last week.

Most of the 10 ships which had been due to join the naval convoy are stuck at ports in Greece after Athens imposed a blanket ban on the departure of any vessels destined for Gaza.

Another ship, the Irish-owned MV Saoirse, is undergoing repairs at a Turkish port after its propeller was damaged in what activists claimed was “sabotage” by Israel. So far, only the MV Dignite, which has 12 people on board, has managed to set sail, a spokesman for the French boat said.

“They're getting on very well,” Thomas Sommer-Houdeville told AFP by phone from Athens, saying the vessel had begun to move slowly towards Gaza on Tuesday afternoon after waiting for several hours in international waters to see if the Greek, Norwegian and Swedish activists on board the MV Juliano would also manage to set sail. “Yesterday afternoon, our Greek colleagues [on board the MV Juliano] were not able to leave, so they decided to start sailing slowly” towards Gaza, he said after speaking by phone to activists on board the Dignite.

“For the time being, our desire is to go to Gaza,” said Mr. Sommer-Houdeville, admitting the activists on board would later decide based on what was possible “logistically and technically”.

Athens says it imposed the ban for the “safety” of the activists as last year Israeli commandos raided a six-ship flotilla, in a confrontation which left nine Turkish activists dead and dozens of people injured. More than 300 activists from 22 countries had signed up to participate in this year's flotilla, among them dozens of middle-aged and elderly Americans and Europeans. Israel has made no secret of its determination to prevent the Freedom Flotilla II from reaching Gaza, which has been under a blockade since 2006.

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