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A group of protesters picketed outside the Greek consulate at noon on Monday in solidarity with those aboard the Canadian boat to Gaza, Tahrir, and with Palestinians.
The protest was organized after the news that Greek coast guards and special forces had boarded the Tahrir on Monday with loaded weapons, and had towed it back to dock and halted it from heading into international waters. The Tahrir is now docked and those on board have been advised to stay on the ship to avoid unnecessary arrests.
"We’re gathered here to protest what the Greek government has done on behalf of the Israeli government in its illegal blockade," said Derrick O’Keefe, an organizer of the protest.
The Greek government is prohibiting any ships from departing Greek ports to Gaza, which all seek to non-violently challenge Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip and to deliver humanitarian aid to the population of Gaza.
The Tahrir, with 32 unarmed Canadians aboard and several other non-Canadian activists, is one of at least ten ships that form the Freedom Flotilla II. It tried to set sail into the international waters Monday morning despite the Greek government’s official order. Greek coast guards chased it down and boarded it with machine guns and other automatic weapons in hand. They halted the vessel about 10 minutes after it left port and towed it back to another port.
Two people from the boat have been arrested. They had taken kayaks to block the coast guard's vessel in order to allow time for the Tahrir to undock and head out before it was towed back. There has yet to be any known charges. (UPDATE July 5: suspended sentences for Michael and Soha, the two kayakers)
Meanwhile, local protestors in Vancouver held their signs and posters, chanted "Free, free Palestine, let them sail," and sang "Peace, salaam, shalom," as they circled outside the consulate on West Hastings St, near Granville St.
"We’re here in solidarity with the activists, the human rights fighters and especially the people in Palestine" said Riaz Behra, another organizer of the emergency protest. " And to break the siege and break the occupation in Gaza."
Behra said that Greece’s blockade on the ships en route to Gaza and Canada’s silence on the matter speak loudly of the imbalance in international powers against the Palestinians.
"The Greek government has presumably acted on behalf of international powers and Israel, and has prevented the Canadian boat from going to Gaza," Behra said. "It’s totally outrageous, we need to continue the pressure on the Greek government and Canadian government to challenge the policy of occupation."
Sandra Ruch, a Jewish Canadian member of the Canada boat to Gaza Steering Committee, was detained by Greek authorities for refusing to surrender the boat’s registration paper and has yet to be released. The guards have also detained Captain John Klusmire, of the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope. Klumsire, who is being charged with disturbing sea traffic and disobeying a police order to remain at dock, will be heard in court at noon on Tuesday. (UPDATE July 5: Sandra has been released on bail)
The Israeli blockade in Gaza has been illegally stripping the rights of Gazans since July 2007. It has been widely criticized by the U.N. and other human rights organizations, although supported by the U.S. and Canada, among some other governments. Recently, Egypt opened the Rafah border to Gaza on May 28th, which officially ended its long-time support of the blockade.