Rugby stars back Gaza aid flotilla campaign

Four Irish rugby internationals have given their backing to a second aid flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade.

Six Nations stars Gordon D‘Arcy and Eoin Reddan were urged to support the Irish wing of the campaign which organisers fear faces a second showdown with the Israeli navy in coming weeks.

Retired Leinster player Trevor Hogan asked the pair, and team-mate John Fogarty, to speak out in support of the Gaza campaigners in an online video.

“It was something that I have always had a big interest in. I’m delighted to be lucky enough to be invited on board the ship. The lads would have known my views on Gaza,” he said.

“I gauged that there were similar views in the changing room and the lads were more than happy to help.”

He added: “There is no guarantee of safety but we are being optimistic that all we are doing is humanitarian. We are not going to be violating any laws. There should be nothing for us to fear.”

Nine people were killed when Israeli commandos stormed the MV Marmara, a Turkish aid ship trying to break the naval blockade. In recent weeks the Rafa crossing on the border with Egypt has been reopened with limited access.

But the Irish Ship to Gaza want full access on land and sea.

Hogan, who retired at 31 with a knee injury, has been invited on board the Irish ship on the flotilla, the MV Saoirse. It is expected to join the rest of the ships in the Mediterranean at the end of this month.

The video of the four internationals was posted online on youtube. It was filmed after a training session and plays on the catchphrase ’Stay Human’ coined by Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni and is also the name given to the entire flotilla.

Fintan Lane, co-ordinator of Irish Ship to Gaza who was on the Challenger 1 vessel when Israel attacked the flotilla last year, said the second attempt is an act of human solidarity.

“The fact that so many prominent people in Irish society support the flotilla is indicative of huge support in Ireland for the Palestinian people in Gaza,” he said.

“The MV Saoirse will turn that support and empathy into active solidarity.

“We are determined to reach Gaza port to show that Ireland will not bury its head in the sand and ignore the suffering that the Israeli siege is inflicting on 1.5 million people.”

In a 10-year career, Tipperary native Hogan played three times for Ireland while D’Arcy has 57 caps, Reddan 29 and Fogarty one.

The official launch of the second Irish Ship to Gaza Campaign will be in Dublin on Monday.

Hogan added: “I thought the flotilla is the best way to highlight the injustice that is going on with the siege in Gaza.”

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