A Swedish ship carrying pro-Palestinian rights activists and what was said to be humanitarian goods has left a Naples port on Saturday and is on its way to challenge Israel's naval blockade and deliver its goods directly to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
According to AFP, a crowd was at the port on Saturday to wish the Estelle a safe voyage. "We think it will take around two weeks to get to Gaza, but it will obviously also depend on the weather conditions," AFP quoted spokeswoman Ann Ighe as saying.
"When people think of flotillas, they think of the Mavi Marmara. But the Estelle is very different, she was chosen to change the perception of the campaign, to show that it's a nonviolent campaign. It is a vessel that has travelled for Greenpeace protests and on fair-trade missions. The Estelle is a peaceful ship," Ighe reportedly said.
The group aboard the ship is said to include 17 activists from various countries, such as Canada, Israel, Norway, Sweden and the U.S.
AFP quoted Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris as saying on Friday "This is not an initiative in favor of Hamas but in favor of Palestine, of the Palestinians who live in Gaza, and in favor of two states living as neighbors in peace and security."
The Estelle reportedly set sail from Sweden and after traveling through waters passing several European countries, anchored at the port in Naples.
The last plan to challenge Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip occurred in June 2011, but Greece banned all ships in a Gaza-bound "freedom flotilla" from leaving its ports. According to AFP, the Israel Navy intercepted two Irish and Canadian ships in international waters in November 2011, which were also said to be heading for the Gaza Strip.
In July, Greek President Karolos Papoulias visited Israel and was praised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for helping to prevent another flotilla incident after the fatal 2010 Mavi Marmara event during which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals while boarding the Gaza-bound ship in international waters. President Shimon Peres thanked the Greek president as well and said "You prevented those intending to defy international law from arriving unchecked into Gaza, which is currently controlled by a terrorist organization.”
In May, activists attending ceremonies marking the anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident in Turkey said they were planning a new flotilla, which would sail from Sweden through western and southern European ports in an attempt to reach the Gaza Strip. Pro-Palestinian activists in other countries have also claimed to be planning more "freedom flotillas."