Lebanese Christian women plan new Gaza aid convoy

Our Lady of Mantara

Our Lady of Mantara

A group of women planning to sail to Gaza gathered to pray by a statue of Our Lady in south Lebanon, before setting out on boat called Mariam, a voyage bringing aid to Gaza.

Spokeswoman Rima Farah said she felt their prayers were already being answered as Israeli officials have now announced plans to  slightly ease the blockade on Gaza.

"The participants are committed to making progress and our only weapons are faith in the Virgin Mary and in humanity," she told Agence France Presse.

Tens of Christian and Muslim women gathered in prayer in a cave near Our Lady of Mantara in the town of Maghdoushe, where Mary was said to have waited for Jesus while he was preaching nearby 2,000 years ago.

Along with European activists and journalists, they are planning to sail for Gaza with an aid ship loaded with medical supplies in the latest bid to break Israel's four-year blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory.

The women insist they are not affiliated with Hizbullah or any other political organization and have not given an exact date for the departure of the ship.

The trip comes as Israel faces an international backlash over its deadly May 31 seizure of a six-ship aid fleet bound for Gaza, in which nine Turkish activists were shot dead by naval commandos on one of the boats. Days later another boat, the Rachel Corrie, accompanied by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, was stopped from delivering aid to Gaza.

On Thursday Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Lebanon it would be responsible for any "violent and dangerous confrontation" with the women on the Mariam.

Organizer Samar al-Hajj said  she thanked Israel for its threats,  which, she said:  "only strengthened these women's willpower to make the trip."

"The ship is now ready," she said. "We are not afraid."

Tags: Gaza, Mariam, Rima Farah

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