Helicopters halt Oireachtas trio in Gaza aid trip
THREE members of the Oireachtas have returned home claiming they were refused permission to leave Cyprus to join a flotilla heading to the Gaza strip with thousands of tonnes of aid.
The humanitarian journey is now destined to be a symbolic gesture as Israel, which controls the waters around Gaza, has said it will stop the six-ship flotilla that is carrying 600 human rights activists and 10,000 tonnes of aid.
Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews, along with Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh and Fianna Fail Senator Mark Daly, said they had been prevented by police helicopters, boats and port security from leaving Cyprus to join the flotilla.
"It is outrageous that Israel used its diplomatic force in this manner, behaving as if they are a law onto themselves.
"I would be concerned about what will happen when the flotilla arrives," the Fianna Fail TD said.
Mr O Snodaigh said this shows the level of pressure Israel exerted on the Cyprian government.
One activist travelling with the convoy urged the Irish Government to ensure the safety of the Irish passengers who are due to arrive in the region today.
Irishman Dennis Halliday, a former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, said he was travelling on board the vessel 'MV Rachel Corrie' to make a "statement that the siege is unacceptable and is a violation of human rights".
Mr Halliday said those on board the ships were prepared to risk coming under fire from the Israeli navy, or jail or deportation.
The flotilla is attempting to raise awareness of Israel's three-year blockade.
Both Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas militants took control of the Palestinian territory in 2007.
Israel has vowed to block the flotilla from reaching Gaza and claimed it allows sufficient supplies of food and medicine into the area. It has accused the convoy of wanting to support Hamas.
The 'MV Rachel Corrie' is packed with 900 tonnes of aid including cement for re-building homes and schools; paper for use in schools and basic drugs for hospitals.
"We are still hopeful they will get wise and see the light and allow us to take this cargo boat -- it is small, unarmed and non-violent -- into Gaza itself and unload," Mr Halliday told RTE Radio.