NEWS

Greek court releases US captain of Gaza boat

A Greek court on Tuesday released the American captain of a boat aiming to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip, four days after arresting him for trying to set sail from Greece without permission.

John Klusmire, the captain of the Audacity of Hope, had attempted to leave a port near Piraeus Friday in defiance of a Greek ban on the flotilla of boats leaving port. He had been in custody since he was arrested, and appeared in court Tuesday handcuffed and under police escort.

Greece banned all boats participating in the Gaza flotilla from leaving port, citing security concerns after a similar flotilla last year was raided by Israeli forces, leaving nine activists on a Turkish boat dead. The Greek foreign ministry has offered to deliver the humanitarian aid the activists want to take to Gaza.

Israel says it imposed the blockade in 2007 to stop weapons reaching Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. Israel eased its land blockade after an international uproar over last year’s raid on the Turkish boat.

Klusmire appeared in court in Piraeus for a two hour deposition on a felony charge of endangering sea traffic and the lives of passengers, and misdemeanor counts of sailing without a permit and violating port authority orders.

?He has been released and is free to go home,? said one of his lawyers, Manolis Stephanakis, after the hearing.

?No trial date has been set and we expect the charges to be dropped. We presented a very strong case and we don’t need to call any more witnesses to testify.?

Flotilla activists who had gathered at the court to show support burst into cheers of celebration. They initially believed Klusmire had been acquitted, but his lawyer later said he had been released while still facing charges.

The captain himself appeared relieved after his deposition, and was cheered on by 30 fellow activists chanting ?We love John.?

?This is a much better outcome than I anticipated,? he said.

[AP]