European politicians defy Israel, sail to Gaza

LARNACA, Cyprus (Reuters) – Eleven European politicians sailed to Gaza from Cyprus Friday after saying attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed.

Members of parliament from Britain, Ireland, Switzerland and Italy left the Mediterranean island on a boat arranged by a pro-Palestinian group seeking to highlight the poor living conditions of 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip.

“We were going to witness the living conditions in Gaza. We were not allowed through the Rafah crossing so we are going by boat because it is the only way to get in,” said British MP Clare Short.

The parliamentarians said they expected to arrive in Gaza early Saturday. It is the third time the U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement has sailed from Cyprus to Gaza since August, defying Israel which patrols waters off the coastal strip.

They are taking a tonne of medical supplies and three medical scanners used for spinal injuries, said Arafat Shoukri, 37, a doctor based in Britain.

“We are taking very basic medical supplies like paracetamol and painkillers. We were shocked when we got the list from the Health Ministry in Gaza, it means they don’t have anything,” Shoukri said.

International aid agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, have said virtually no medical supplies were reaching Gaza.

The ICRC had blamed that on a lack of cooperation between Palestinian authorities in the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction holds sway, and Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip in 2007.

It also urged Israel, which tightened overland border restrictions after the Hamas takeover, to facilitate timely deliveries of medical supplies and equipment.

Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005.

Short, a former minister in Tony Blair’s government, said: “We want to witness the living conditions of these people, challenge the siege, and challenge the failure of our governments to uphold the Geneva convention.

“The whole of the EU is colluding to what is taking place in Gaza to our shame.”

Organizers of the boat shuttle said more activists would travel to Gaza in mid-December, and a boat of European musicians would travel there in January.

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