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Caritas shocked by attack on Gaza aid convoy

Caritas aid workers in Gaza have expressed their shock and disappointment over Israel's attack on a convoy of passenger boats bringing humanitarian aid.

“We really thought they would succeed”, said Ameen Sabbagh, Caritas coordinator in Gaza, still shocked by the news. “The port of Gaza was even repaired to welcome the flotilla”. But the passenger boat Mavi Marmara never arrived to its destination. It was towed with other ships to the Israeli port of Ashdod, a mere 40 km north from Gaza.

On the morning of 31 May, around 5am local time, an Israeli Navy commando stormed the passenger boat Mavi Marmara in international waters, killing 10 and injuring more than 30 civilians. The boat was part of a flotilla of six cargos and passenger ships transporting 800 peace activists and 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Gaza. The ships were taking much-needed medical equipment and construction material to the Gaza Strip, under siege
since 2007.

But more than material, the ships were bringing hope to the people of Gaza. “We were looking forward to welcoming foreign peace activists. People had prepared events, conferences and visits to hospitals and centres for disabled. This was our chance to show the world the effects of the blockade on 1,5 million people.” said  Ameen.

Claudette Habesch, Caritas Jerusalem Secretary General, expressed her dismay at the situation: “The siege is entering its fourth year this month. We know under which hard conditions our Caritas staff in Gaza works everyday and how isolated they feel. They are desperate, disillusioned and have lost hope that a better future will come soon. The brutal attack on the Free Gaza flotilla has cut a lifeline of hope and solidarity with all Gazans, including Caritas workers stranded on this short strip of land.”

Caritas Jerusalem is calling all its partners to pressure Israel to respect international law, including the Geneva Convention protecting unarmed civilians and humanitarian workers. The siege on Gaza is an illegal and inhuman act of collective punishment only helping the extremists. It must end now.

Since 2003, Caritas Jerusalem has been running a health centre, giving general medical and psychosocial help to more than 2000 patients in Gaza. A mobile clinic is also reaching out the population without access to healthcare.

In the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead, Caritas has provided tents to the homeless, food and hygiene kits to the population under siege. Caritas workers regularly organise psychosocial activities, including fun days and festivals, to help children and families deal with the trauma of the military aggression and hardships of the blockade.