Israel Threatens to Shoot Unarmed Civilians aboard Mercy Ship

For more information, please contact:
(Cyprus) Lubna Masarwa, +357 97 625 828
(Cyprus) Mary Hughes, +357 99 081 767
(Gaza) Ewa Jasiewicz, +972 598 700 497

(Mediterranean Sea, 15 January 2009) - The Israeli navy today threatened
to kill unarmed civilians aboard a mercy ship on its way to deliver
medical supplies and doctors to besieged Gaza.

The Free Gaza Movement ship, SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, left Cyprus Wednesday
morning carrying doctors, journalists, human rights workers, and
parliamentarians. The ship also carried over a ton of desperately needed
medicines donated by the European Campaign to Break the Siege, intended
for overwhelmed hospitals in the Gaza Strip. At the request of the ship’s
organizers the passenger list and manifest were publicly released, and
Cypriot authorities searched the boat prior to its departure in order to
certify that it only carried humanitarian items. The organizers also sent
an official notification to the Israeli government of their intent to
break through the blockade of Gaza.

At roughly 3am UST (1am GMT), in international waters 100 miles off the
coast of Gaza, at least five Israeli gunboats surrounded the SPIRIT OF
HUMANITY and began recklessly cutting in front of the slow-moving civilian
craft. The Israeli warships radioed the SPIRIT, demanding that the ship
turn around or they would open fire and “shoot.” When asked if the Israeli
navy was acknowledging that they intended to commit a war crime by
deliberately firing on unarmed civilians, the warships replied that they
were prepared to use “any means” to stop the ship.

An earlier attempt by Free Gaza to deliver doctors and medical supplies
ended on 30 December when Israeli gunboats deliberately and repeatedly
rammed the DIGNITY, almost sinking that ship. Rather than endanger the
lives of its passengers, the SPIRIT is now returning to Cyprus.

Israel's reckless and shocking threats against an unarmed ship on a
mission of mercy are a violation of both international maritime law and
the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states that "the high seas
should be reserved for peaceful purposes."

CALL the Israeli Government and demand that it immediately STOP attacking
the civilian population of Gaza and STOP using violence to prevent human
rights and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

Mark Regev in the Prime Minister's office:
+972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264

Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence:
+972 3697 5339 or +972 50629 8148

The Israeli Navy Spokesperson:
+ 972 5 781 86248

The Free Gaza Movement, a human rights group, sent two boats to Gaza in
August 2008. These were the first international boats to land in the port
in 41 years. Since August, four more voyages were successful, taking
Parliamentarians, human rights workers, and other dignitaries to witness
the effects of Israel's draconian policies on the civilians of Gaza.