Greece clamped down on pro-Palestinian activists when a Gaza-bound aid vessel left port without permission. But after the activists took to the streets in protest, Athens came up with a concessionary plan B.
Activists took to the streets of Athens
Greece offered to deliver humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip itself on Sunday, after protesters denounced the country's storming of a banned aid boat.
"Greece ... proposes to undertake the task of transporting the humanitarian aid, with Greek vessels or other appropriate means, through the existing channels" requested by the United Nations, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The move was an apparent bid to counter accusations that Greece was complicit in Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.
Greece's foreign ministry stressed that the mission would be conducted "in cooperation with the UN and the competent authorities," as well as in "constant contact with the Palestinian Authority."
Greece says it opposes Israel's Gaza blockade
According to the statement, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou had discussed the matter with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas, who "considered the proposal positive and expressed his support."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also supported the initiative to use Greek vessels to route humanitarian aid to Gaza through regular existing channels, according to a UN statement.
In Ban's view, the mission "could help to reduce tensions in the region and ensure much-needed aid is delivered to those who need it in Gaza," the statement added.
Activists turn angry
Campaigners from the international flotilla rallied against Papandreou on Sunday after a Greek coastguard vessel with armed men intercepted the US boat Audacity of Hope as it tried to break a Greek order to stay put.
Volunteers from the United States, Canada, France, Spain and elsewhere had planned to launch their convoy of 11 cargo and passenger boats over a week ago.
Instead, on Sunday, they protested the arrest of the boat's captain, John Klusmer, who was charged with leaving the port without permission and endangering passengers' lives.
Members of Klusmer's boat gathered in front of the US embassy in Athens, declaring an open-ended hunger strike and accusing the Greek government of tying up their convoy with paperwork.
The protesters also accused Israel of having sabotaged two of their vessels, a claim denied by Israeli authorities.
A May 2010 aid flotilla to Gaza ended with nine activists dead
After last year's aid flotilla to Gaza ended with Israeli authorities killing nine Turkish activists, Greece has said its main concern is the passengers' own safety.
Hamas denounces Greece
Gaza's Hamas administration on Sunday repeated its calls for Greece to allow the flotilla to set sail for the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian territory.
Meanwhile in Athens, Moustafa Barghouti, the head of the Palestinian National Initiative (PLI) and a passenger on the flotilla, expressed disappointment with the Greece's decision to block the aid convoy.
"They claim to support the Arab Spring but don't support the Palestinian Spring," he said.
Greece has insisted that it "actively supports the resumption of peace talks" between Israel and the Palestinians and that it remains in favor of "lifting the Gaza blockade and improving the humanitarian conditions" in the region.
Author: David Levitz (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson