US group says it plans to send plane to Gaza
BETHLEHEM — A pro-Palestinian group based in the US will send a plane loaded with aid to the Gaza Strip in defiance of Israel’s air and sea blockade, an official said Sunday.
“We intend to send an aircraft to Gaza in much the same way boats were used — without going through Israeli or Egyptian airspace,” said Paul Larudee, an organizer with the California-based Free Palestine Movement sponsoring the flight.
Authorities in Gaza are supportive of the initiative and are working to locate a landing site, Larudee said. Gaza’s now-defunct Yasser Arafat International Airport is not being considered, he told Ma’an.
In the meantime, Free Palestine Movement officials will look for a plane designed for rough landings and takeoffs such as those used in Alaska and other locales lacking proper aviation facilities, Larudee said. The plan is to send a light aircraft equipped with material sometime in the spring of 2011, after the next sea voyage.
“Breaking the blockade by air may be even more feasible than by sea. An aircraft cannot be boarded while in flight, and the right aircraft can land almost anywhere in Gaza,” a statement on the group’s website says.
In May, Israeli navy commandos raided a six-boat flotilla loaded with humanitarian aid in international waters off the coast of Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens including a dual US national were killed in the operation. Israel says its soldiers came under fire from the activists, a claim Free Gaza Movement officials deny.
The years-long military blockade against Gaza is enforced by Egypt and Israel. Israel says the siege prevents weapons from entering the coastal enclave, but Palestinians as well as the UN and human rights groups say it amounts to collective punishment against the civilian population in addition to Hamas.