LARNACA, Cyprus – A group of European lawmakers said Tuesday they will petition the European Union to suspend a preferential trade agreement with Israel because of what they described as its "cruel" blockade of Gaza.
Lord Nazir Ahmed, a Muslim member of Britain's House of Lords, said Gaza's 1.4 million residents face a dire situation because the siege has deprived them of medical supplies.
Ahmed was among 11 lawmakers from Britain, Ireland, Switzerland and Italy who sailed Saturday to Gaza from Cyprus on a yacht owned by the US-based Free Gaza activist group, in defiance of an Israeli blockade. Israel's navy did not block the vessel, Dignity, which made its third run to Gaza since August. It returned to Cyprus on Tuesday after the activists delivered one ton of medicine and hospital equipment.
Ahmed dismissed suggestions that the activists and lawmakers were being exploited by Hamas, which controls Gaza, for propaganda purposes.
"Israel is contravening international law ... that's the real issue," Ahmed said.
The activists say they are not legitimizing Hamas' rule of Gaza, which it seized last year. Hamas' takeover prompted Israel and Egypt to seal their borders with Gaza, only allowing in humanitarian aid and a trickle of commercial goods.
Clare Short, a former member of the British Cabinet, said Israel was punishing Gaza residents for voting Hamas to power.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Hamas' forcible takeover of Gaza has made cooperation impossible, to the detriment of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
"The source of the problem is Hamas' rigid and hateful extremism," Regev said.
Free Gaza organizer Greta Berlin said the Dignity also brought eight Palestinians out of Gaza, including four students pursuing studies in Greece, France, Germany and Spain, and an elderly man traveling to Germany for treatment after suffering a stroke in February.