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EU Parliamentarians Defy Israeli Blockade, Sail to Gaza

Even as Hamas announced it would not take part in Palestinian unity talks next week, a third voyage of EU lawmakers, activists and journalists challenged Israel's blockage of the Gaza Strip.

A crowd gathers around Dignity on Oct. 29, 2008

"Dignity" also docked in Gaza on Oct. 29

Egypt intends to inform Palestinian factions of a plan to postpone reconciliation talks scheduled for this week in Cairo, senior Palestinian officials said Saturday, Nov. 8, in the West Bank and Egypt, according to news agency reports on Saturday.

"Egyptian authorities will inform all factions the national dialogue is postponed," one official in the West Bank told Reuters news agency.

No further date has been set for the talks that had been intended to heal a rift between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction and Islamist Hamas, a feud that erupted into violence last year when Hamas seized power in Gaza.

The announcement came shortly after a ship with EU lawmakers, activists and journalists aboard docked in a Gaza fishing port with a handful of Hamas officials and dozens of Palestinians on hand to welcome the delegation Saturday morning.

The yacht, which set sail Friday from Cyprus, carried 11 journalists, human rights and peace activists in addition to 12 European parliamentarians who Egypt barred from traveling to Gaza through its territories last month.

Hamas authorities arranged a three-day program for the delegation to inspect the effects of the Israeli closure, especially on the healthcare system.

Easier than pervious trips

Nasser al-Badri, a London-based reporter for the Qatari satellite channel al-Jazeera, said Dignity's third trip "was easier than the previous two voyages." He added that it is also more important "since it carries parliamentarians whose governments boycott Hamas and its government."

The delegation is headed by Nazir Ahmed, a Labour member of the House of Lords in the UK. Most of the parliamentarians came from the UK and the remaining represented Italy, Switzerland and Ireland.

"Even prisoners have rights, rights to have food and medicine and to live in dignity," Lord Nazir Ahmad, Labour member of Britain's House of Lords and head of the delegation, told the AFP news agency. "People here in Gaza don't have those rights."

Also among the passengers is Sami al-Haj, an al-Jazeera cameraman who spent five years in the US military prison in Guantanamo, and Clare Short, former British minister of international development.

The Israeli navy allowed the ship to enter Gaza territorial waters as it has done with the previous voyage. Israel imposed a tight sea blockade on Gaza and doesn't allow Palestinian fishermen to work beyond tow nautical miles.


The voyage is chartered by the US-based Free Gaza Movement which promotes against the Israeli sanctions on Gaza Strip. The movement ferried its first mission, which was made up of tow boats, in August and the second cruise in October.

Israel sealed off the Gaza Strip when the Islamic Hamas movement seized the salient in June 2007. But human rights groups and the working UN bodies in Gaza say the poor, ordinary people pay the price of the sanctions.

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