Gaza flotilla organizers mark anniversary

Pro-Palestinian activists on May 31 marked the first anniversary of the Gaza flotilla incident — in which Israeli soldiers intercepted and boarded a ship bound for the Gaza Strip — by gathering on the deck of the same boat, which has been refitted and is prepared to sail for Gaza again soon.

An international coalition of activists said Egypt’s removal of a 4-year-old blockade of the Gaza Strip last weekend will not affect their plans for a new flotilla, which will depart from various European ports in an attempt to breach Israel’s sea blockade. Israel says the blockade stops weapons from reaching Hamas militants, but activists describe restrictions on Gaza’s 1.5 million residents as a human rights violation.

“The Gaza shore has to be free. That’s why we are sailing there,” Vangelis Pisias, a Greek organizer, said at a news conference on the Mavi Marmara, a ship that was boarded by Israeli commandos before dawn on May 31, 2010. Nine activists died in the incident, with each side accusing the other of starting the violence.

Pisias said an aid convoy would sail in “20 days,” though IHH, the Islamic group that operates the Mavi Marmara, has said only that the third week of June was the target date for departure.

Israeli military officials said troops have been training for months to intercept any flotilla, and plan to use different tactics this time. The officials refused to elaborate.

Turkish government officials said they will not block activists from setting sail on the Mavi Marmara from a dock on the Golden Horn, an inlet in Istanbul. — ap