Israel has warned that it will halt the latest foreign aid flotilla heading for Gaza – with former Irish rugby star Trevor Hogan on board.
Hogan, capped four times before a knee injury ended his professional career last year, is one of 30 Irish people aboard the Saoirse boat aiming to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The Saoirse is one of 10 ships aiming to break through the sea blockade and bring much needed humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
Fellow rugby stars Gordon D’Arcy, Eoin Reddan and John Fogarty have publicly supported Hogan’s mission, 12 months after the Israeli attacks on a previous flotilla left nine protestors dead.
“The injustices there are something I slowly became aware of. I can see the parallels with Palestinian history and Irish history,” said Hogan, now on board the Saoirse as it prepares to set sail for Gaza from Greece on Tuesday.
“What has happened to the Palestinian people is unjust and we are hoping to provide humanitarian aid as part of a peaceful mission.”
Israeli authorities have confirmed that their defense forces have been ordered to stop the maritime convoy reaching Gaza.
Foreign media has been warned that all equipment will be impounded and any journalist arrested will be banned from entering Israel for 10 years.
The Foreign Press Association has condemned the Israeli threat to journalists.
“Journalists covering a legitimate news event should be allowed to do their jobs without threats and intimidation,” said the Association in their statement.
“This move sends a chilling message to the international media and raises serious questions about Israel’s commitment to freedom of the press.”
Up to 500 activists are expected to board the 10 ship convoy before it leaves Greece for Gaza tomorrow.
Greek authorities have refused permission for a number of the vessels, including American ship Audacity of Hope, to set sail.
The biggest ship in the flotilla, the Turkish Mavi Marmara, pulled out earlier this month. Nine Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara were killed in May of last year when Israeli commandos stormed the Gaza-bound vessel.
Israeli forces are on high alert as they bid to stop the flotilla amid government promises that all humanitarian aid will be allowed to enter Gaza via land crossings.
A Dublin politician has called on the Irish activists to abandon their protest and return home.
Labor Party councilor Richard Humphreys appealed to the Irish protestors aboard the Saoirse to heed the warnings of the UN and President Barack Obama and stay at home.
“Ultra left politicians such as Dún Laoghaire Rathdown county councilor Cllr Hugh Lewis, and Paul Murphy MEP, would be fulfilling their duties better if they stayed at home and attended to their constituents, rather than heading off for this ill-advised Mediterranean cruise,” said Humphreys.
“This is not just my opinion. This flotilla is in defiance of the call by the secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, that such flotillas should be discouraged, and blocked by member states, as they may only provide a focus for violence.
“President Obama’s administration, and Hillary Clinton in particular, has made the same appeal to call off this flotilla.
“I fully support the call by our party leader Eamon Gilmore that all sides must avoid the completely unjustified violence associated with the last flotilla.”