Nicosia bars Gaza-bound flotilla

NICOSIA (Combined reports) – Nicosia said yesterday that it had banned all vessels from sailing to Gaza from Cyprus as organizers of a flotilla trying to break a blockade of the Palestinian territory had ignored a government appeal not to involve the island. A spokesman for the government, Titos Christofides, did not provide details about what the organizers had done to trigger the ban but he condemned the three-year blockade and expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people. He noted said the ban had been made to protect the island’s «vital interests.» Several hundred activists – an estimated 750 aboard eight ships – are on their way to the Gaza coast after setting sail from Ireland, Greece and Turkey. The vessels are carrying some 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies. Israeli authorities have criticized the activists for what they says is a propaganda stunt, while Turkey urged Israeli authorities to treat the convoy as humanitarian aid. One of the largest vessels in the convoy has been chartered by a Turkish human rights group. A group of activists tried to leave Cyprus on smaller vessels to meet up with the larger convoy in international waters but was turned back by the authorities. «Anything related to the trip to Gaza is not permitted,» said Cyprus police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos. A spokesman for the group said the activists, including 17 members of parliament from Ireland, Bulgaria and Sweden, would attempt to meet the flotilla by departing through the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus. «We are bitterly disappointed with the Cypriot government,» said Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, the group spearheading the effort.

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