Updated: 2:46 p.m. December 30, 2008
McKinney relief boat hit by Israeli ship
By JULIA MALONE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, December 29, 2008
Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, standing beside a damaged yacht in the Lebanese seaport of Tyre, Tuesday accused the Israeli navy of ramming the vessel to halt the delivery of medical supplies to the embattled Gaza Strip.
“Our mission was a peaceful mission,” McKinney told CNN. The recent Green Party candidate for U.S. president and frequent center of controversy is the most prominent political figure to join the relief voyages sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement.
McKinney was slated to travel by car to Beirut where she was expected to conducted media interviews and meet with Lebanese government officials, said Paul Larudee, a co-founder of the California-based Free Gaza group.
Larudee said the organization was determined to continue the relief mission, the sixth such trip to Gaza and the first to be interrupted.
“We’re going to get it repaired,” Larudee said of the “Dignity,” the cabin cruiser which he said sustained some damage to the hull, the bridge and the engine room.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said Tuesday that U.S. diplomats had issued no protests to Israeli authorities. “When you enter a zone of conflict, then you have to realize that it’s very, very dangerous,” the spokesman told reporters.
Later, spokesman Noel Clay said “there were no injuries, that we’re aware of at the moment” and that “to my knowledge, consular officials have not been in contact with the American who was aboard the ship.”
McKinney was the sole American on board.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Associated Press that the relief boat had ignored an Israeli order to turn back as it approached Gaza. The spokesman said the boat was damaged when it tried to out maneuver the navy ship.
In a news release Tuesday afternoon, one of the 16-member mission, Caoimhe Butterfly offered a conflicting version. The Israeli gunboats “gave us no warning” and “rammed us three times,” she said.
“We began taking on water and, for a few minutes, we all feared for our lives,” she said of the early morning incident.
In an phone interview Larudee said the Dignity’s bilge pumps worked well enough for the boat to sail to a safe harbor in Lebanon. The boat had shipped out of Cyprus Monday en route to Gaza.
Cox Washington Bureau correspondent Bob Deans contributed to this report.