Urbana Resident’s Humanitarian Trip to Gaza Strip Put on Hold
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
An Urbana resident's humanitarian trip to the Gaza Strip has been put at a standstill.
Robert Naiman works for the advocacy group, Just Foreign Policy. He is traveling with about 50 other Americans to protest an Israeli-imposed naval blockade on Gaza.
But on Friday, Greek authorities intercepted the U.S. ship, and arrested its captain for setting sail without permission and allegedly endangering the other passengers.
Speaking in Athens on Tuesday morning, Naiman said the Greek government released the ship's captain, John Klusmire, earlier in the day. Klusmire had attempted to leave a port Friday near Piraeus, Greece, in defiance of a Greek ban on the flotilla of boats leaving port. He appeared in court Tuesday handcuffed and under police escort.
"No trial date has been set and we expect the charges to be dropped," one of his lawyers, Manolis Stephanakis, said after the hearing. "We presented a very strong case and we don't need to call any more witnesses to testify."
The captain himself appeared relieved after his deposition, and was cheered on by 30 fellow activists chanting "We love John."
"This is a much better outcome than I anticipated," Klusmire said.
Up to 400 international activists had been due to sail last week to Gaza aboard 10 ships leaving from Greece to protest the naval blockade.
Greece has banned all boats participating in the Gaza flotilla from leaving port, citing security concerns after a similar flotilla last year was raided by Israeli forces, leaving nine activists on a Turkish boat dead. The Greek foreign ministry has offered to deliver the humanitarian aid the activists want to take to Gaza.
Despite Klusmire's release, Naiman said the humanitarian trip has faced another setback with Greek government officials seizing Klusmire's Gaza-bound ship.
"Whether we can go to Gaza I think is now a question of our boat," Naiman said. "Our boat is essentially under arrest by the Greek authorities. It's tied at a military dock in Piraeus. I don't think as of now the Greek authorities will allow it to leave."
Naiman added that even if his hopes to make it to Gaza are dashed, he said he is grateful for being able to "communicate a message of solidarity to the people of Gaza, and to speak to international public opinion about the blockade and the denial of freedom."
The Israeli government has maintained the naval blockade since 2007 to weaken the militant group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian territory.
(AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)