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Ex-Tunisian president Marzouki joins Gaza flotilla

The beach is the only outlet Palestinians have in beisged Gaza. [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 June, 2015

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Tunisia's first post-revolution leader Moncef Marzouki is to join other European and Israeli politicians on the three ship flotilla planning to break the siege of Gaza.

A flotilla aiming to break the siege of Gaza is gathering steam as Tunisia's first post-revolution president arrived in Athens to join, and a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset caused anger after he announced he would take part on Monday.

Moncef Marzouki, who was chosen as Tunisia's president after the overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, and then narrowly lost Beji Caid Essebsi last year, posted a picture on his official Facebook page saying that he was set to board 'Freedom Flotilla III'.

Meanwhile, Basel Ghattas may be punished by the Israeli Knesset for joining the flotilla, with the Israelis keen to avoid a public relations disaster, and more attention on their nine year blockade of the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

"The central issue here is the fact that the Israeli public is trying to ignore the fact that there are two million Palestinians just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Tel Aviv living in disgraceful poverty and hunger," Ghattas, an MP for the Joint Arab List party, told Israeli army radio.

Ships are banned from entering or leaving the coastal enclave's territory, and the Israelis have used lethal force against activists to prevent them from breaking the siege, staging a raid in May 2010 on the initial 'freedom flotilla' that killed 10 Turkish nationals on board the six-ship flotilla.

Pro-Palestinian activists have since repeatedly attempted to reach the Hamas-run territory, which was heavily damaged after Israel's war on the territory last summer.

Ghattas follows Hanin Zoabi in attracting the ire of other Israeli parliamentarians, after the female Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset joined the flotilla in 2010, and was denounced as a traitor.

"It is the gravest thing possible that an Israeli MP would join the flotilla whose aim is to help the Hamas terror organisation," said immigration minister Zeev Elkin from the rightwing Likud.

"Israeli law does not allow anyone to serve in parliament who supports a terror organisation," he railed in an interview about Ghattas with army radio.

Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely said that joining the attempt to run the blockade was evidence Ghattas was working against Israel.

"The participation of an Arab Israeli MP alongside those who want to fight against Israel is a demonstration of activity in the service of the enemy under the sponsorship of parliamentary immunity," she said in a statement late on Sunday.

She said the foreign ministry had been working to prevent the flotilla from reaching Israel's territorial waters.

The flotilla of two main vessels and three smaller boats is expected to try to reach Gaza before the end of the month.

A total of about 70 people from more than 20 countries, including European and Arab parliamentarians, are expected to take part, according to advocacy group Platform for French NGOs for Palestine.

Boats involved in the campaign have left from various Mediterranean ports, the advocacy group said, and were expected to meet up in the coming days, although al-Araby has learned that damage to one of the vessels has resulted in a delay.

"The trip to Gaza will set off from Greece, and will take between a week and 10 days, if [we] don't face an encounter with the Israeli military's ships and they do not stop our path to Gaza as has happened previously," said Abdeljaleel al-Hawashi, a co-ordinator for the boat coming from North Africa. "There are indeed Israeli threats, but all the participants are steadfast in their desire to reach Gaza's shores whatever happens."

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