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Boat carrying human rights activists headed for Gaza to stop off in Cork Harbour this weekend

Cork Harbour will host a ship and its crew of human rights activists this weekend who are sailing to Gaza to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory which has been deemed illegal by a panel of UN Human Rights experts.

A former Norwegian fishing boat, the 17-metre Handala, has sailed before to Gaza as part of a group called the Freedom Flotilla. After visiting Cobh and other ports in Europe to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians, it will sail to Gaza to challenge peacefully the Israeli Defence Forces’ naval blockade.

Gillian Carney of the Cobh Gaza Freedom Flotilla Organising Committee said the Freedom Flotilla Coalition consists of civil society organisations and groups from many countries. She said it has been “challenging the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza since 2011”.

“Cobh is my hometown and I’m incredibly proud of the dedication of my local Cobh Palestine Solidarity Campaign with the support of Midleton and Cork Palestine solidarity campaigns in making this weekend so vibrant and welcoming,” she said.

Ms Carney said the boat is named after Handala, a Palestinian refugee child cartoon character created in 1969 by political cartoonist Naji al-Ali and widely recognised throughout Palestine.,

“Handala remains a potent symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people … and since more than two thirds of the people in Gaza are Palestinian refugees, and approximately half of Gaza’s inhabitants are children, Handala is an appropriate name for the Flotilla’s mission,” she said.

Among the members of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition is retired US army colonel and former US diplomat Ann Wright, who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the US war on Iraq. She said the Gaza Flotilla’s objective is to highlight “the illegal Israeli naval blockade of Gaza”.

The Handala arrives in Cobh on Friday and will depart on Monday. There will be a variety of activities over the weekend to welcome the crew and build solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Singers John Spillane, Jimmy Crowley, Eve Telford and Martin Leahy will perform over the weekend, while Cobh-born comedian Maeve Higgins will MC a family event on Saturday afternoon.

There will also be a number of talks to raise awareness of Gaza from speakers including Frances Black and Cork human rights campaigner Caoimhe Butterly, who was shot in 2002 by an Israeli soldier while trying to protect Palestinian children.

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