Gaza flotilla activists rally outside US embassy in Greece
French and US activists hoping to defy Israel and breach its sea blockade on Gaza rallied outside the US embassy in Athens on Friday to demand their aid flotilla be allowed to sail from Greece.
Around 100 pro-Palestinians blocked traffic outside the embassy, waving peace flags and shouting slogans against French, Greek and US authorities which they claim are bowing to pressure from Israel to block the 10-boat mission.
Activists of all ages -- including firefighters, artists and members of parliament -- chanted "Gaza we are coming!" and "Free, free Palestine", as Greek police forcibly pushed them back with riot shields.
"We were driven back by the police... we're putting pressure on all the authorities who are trying to delay the flotilla's departure," said activist and politician Olivier Besancenot, of France's New Anticapitalist Party.
A handful of Greek would-be passengers who joined the rally said frustration was rife among the 300 or so activists from 22 countries who are hoping to carry medicines, a fully-equipped ambulance car and cement to Gaza.
News that the captain and two members of crew from the French boat Dignity had been beaten up by "about 10 fascists" in the streets of Athens on Thursday night brought more gloom to a flotilla marked by a stream of misfortunes.
The activists have blamed Israel's secret service for "sabotage" attacks carried out on two of the boats this week, and said Greece was complying with the Jewish state by inventing "bureaucratic excuses" to keep them grounded.
The Saoirse pulled out of the mission after it was damaged in an attack while moored in Turkey. Technicians in Piraeus port near Athens were rushing to fix the Swedish-owned Juliano, which had also been sabotaged on the weekend.
All boats bar one were still waiting for permission Friday morning from the Greeks authorities to sail, after complaints were filed against them for a reel of bureaucratic hiccups.
"Despite all the obstacles, all the attacks against us, we will win and we will leave for Gaza together," said Ann Wright, an organiser for the US Audacity of Freedom boat, proudly waving her stars and stripes flag.
Passenger Johnny Barber said it was "pretty clear the US embassy is not going to help", adding: "It's obvious they're complicit in stopping our boats."
Israel has rejected activists' allegations of interference in their mission as "paranoid", though it has repeatedly said it is determined to stop the flotilla and has urged organisers not to create "new friction" in the region.
Israeli troops ended a similar attempt by a multi-national flotilla to reach Gaza in May last year when they stormed the lead vessel, killing nine Turkish activists and sparking a diplomatic storm.
Volunteers said they were prepared to set sail "whether we have official clearance to do so or not". Organisers have said they will wait for the Juliano to be fixed but hope to set sail on Sunday morning.
"Come what may, we will leave," Besancenot said.
© 2011 AFP