Gloomy mood as mercy mission leaves Cyprus for Gaza

By Nathan Morley
30 December 2008

THERE was a gloomy mood last night at Larnaca port as the Free Gaza Movement prepared to set sail on what they described as an “emergency mission” to Gaza.

After days of Israeli strikes into the Hamas controlled territory, which has left over 300 people dead, the organisation mobilised their “Dignity vessel” for the trip, which is loaded with four tons of urgently needed medical supplies.

At a hastily arranged press conference held in the pouring rain yesterday afternoon, the organisation announced that four doctors, including Dr. Eleni Theocharous, a surgeon and local MP, would be part of the team.

Speaking to the Cyprus Mail as she prepared to board the ship, Theocharous was downbeat about the prospects of the mission actually making it to Gaza.

“I’m not confident that this will work, not at all. I will personally try and convince the Israeli authorities, who I know will try and stop us; I will request we get through. We are not helping militants; we are carrying pharmaceutical supplies and medicine that is all.”

With more severe storms and gale force winds forecast, sailing in the treacherous weather which has currently hit the Mediterranean was also causing serious concern for the crew and passengers.

“I am worried about the sailing. It’s a small boat, the weather is bad, the boat is overloaded, but we have to take the risk,” Theoharous added.

Other passengers include former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera reporter and former detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

Supplies and medical provisions were still being loaded onto the ship, just moments before she prepared to set sail. Piles of boxes were stacked up on the boats tiny deck, tied up with rope and flimsy looking tape.

Trying to cheer the mood, a member of the crew yelled from the boat, “it’s bad weather, but we’ve seen worse”.

Martha Tsisa, who is co-ordinating part of the Cyprus medical mission with Doctors of the World, told the Cyprus Mail that the crew and medical staff were aware that the voyage and ultimately the destination were fraught with danger.

“We are ready to do it, whatever it takes. We know there will be difficulties because of the weather and the rough seas. Obviously there could be problems with the arrival as well, because of the attacks – we know there was some bombing near Gaza port, but we have decided to go ahead anyway.”

Tsisa added that she was confident that the aid supplies would go some way to help reliving the desperate situation in Gaza.

“What we are doing will definitely help, because now the hospitals in Gaza cannot meet the needs of the wounded people, due the continuous attacks. We are still collecting medical supplies, if we are successful in this mission, we will send another boat with more supplies.”

Dr Theocharous appealed for the public to make cash donations, so that more urgently needed supplies could be purchased and sent to the violence stricken territory.

“We also have to send a message to the people of Gaza that they are not alone, what is happening there is a crime against humanity, it’s a war crime.”

In addition to donations from the public, several Cyprus-based companies, including the Cyprus Pharmaceutical Services, Stelios Stylianou, Medochemie and The Medical Company made generous donations of medical supplies to the mission.

If all goes well, the boat should reach Gaza later this morning, but there are fears, backed up by reports on Israel Radio, that Israeli gunboats or a naval blockade may intercept and turn back the boat.

The Free Gaza Movement has successfully challenged the Israeli blockade on six previous occasions this year, landing missions in Gaza in August, October and November. The Free Gaza ships were the first to dock at Gaza’s port in over 41 years.

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