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Apparent sabotage against Gaza flotilla

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Petros Giannakouris/AP

(Read caption) US activists chant slogans as they hold placards after a news conference about an international flotilla to blockaded Gaza, in Athens, Monday, June 27, 2011.

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A ship jointly owned by Swedish, Greek, and Norwegian activists hoping to join a flotilla of activist vessels challenging Israel's economic blockade of Gaza, had its propeller cut while in Athen's harbor today. A spokesman contacted by the Monitor said that the damage was a deliberate act of sabotage.

Israel and its allies have been working hard to head off the planned flotilla, which is hoping to enter the waters off Gaza in the next week. Col. (ret) Ann Wright, who's organizing a US vessel named the Audacity of Hope for the flotilla, says her ship has been detained in Athens on spurious charges that it's not seaworthy. She says that charge was made by an Israeli legal group.

Now the Juliano is held up. Mikael Löfgren, a spokesman for Ship to Gaza Sweden, says the damage was discovered at 6:30 in the evening Athens time today, and that divers probably cut the propeller in the past 24 hours.

"The reports I'm receiving is that it's certain that it was sabotage," says Mr. Löfgren, reached by phone in Sweden. "The propeller and [propeller shaft] has been cut and we have divers that have filmed the damages. Experts have said there’s no doubt" that the damage was deliberate.

He says that repairing the damage will take a few days. As to who is responsible, he declined to speculate. "We simply don't know who did it, but it's obviously a hostile act," says Löfgren.

Israel has been desperate to stop the flotilla from nearing Gaza. Israel raided a similar flotilla in international waters last year, killing nine pro-Palestinian activists in the process, one of them an American citizen. In the wake of that event, and the international outcry against Israel, Israel eased some of the restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza.

This year, Israel is determined it doesn't get that far. Earlier today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet approve using any means necessary to stop the flotilla from reaching Gaza.

The US has also been putting pressure on the activists to hold back. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized the flotilla as hostile in a comment last week.

"We think that it's not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke action by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves," Clinton said.

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The flotilla, in fact, says it has no plans to enter Israeli waters, instead planning on transiting through international waters to Gaza's territorial waters. The distinction goes to the heart of their protest. While Israel extends de facto sovereignty over Gaza's coastal waters, penning its fisherman close to shore and preventing any shipping or ferries to run to and from the Strip, it's not their territory under international law.

The activists themselves say they want to make the point that peacefully coming and going from Gaza shouldn't be criminalized, insist that they will practice nonviolence in their attempt, and that they'd be delighted to simply sail through unmolested.

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