Greece tries to appease pro-Palestinian activists

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Greece tried to appease furious activists after halting a flotilla bound for Gaza, offering to deliver aid "through existing channels" and reaching out to the Palestinian Authority Sunday.

"Greece... proposes to undertake the task of transporting the humanitarian aid, with Greek vessels or other appropriate means, through the existing channels" as requested by the UN, said a foreign ministry statement.

Athens has already tried to parry the accusations of furious pro-Palestinian activists who have accused it of complying with Israel's naval blockade of the tiny Palestinian enclave.

Greece was "concerned primarily with the safety of human life", the ministry statement insisted.

Prime Minister George Papandreou spoke to the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmud Abbas on Sunday to discuss the offer to transport aid, a government statement said.

While stressing it would be done "in cooperation with the UN and the competent authorities," it said the initiative would involve "constant contact with the Palestinian Authority."

Abbas "considered the proposal positive and expressed his support," it added.

Campaigners with the flotilla denounced Papandreou after a Greek coastguard vessel carrying armed, masked men intercepted the US boat Audacity of Hope as it tried to break the Greek ban on Friday.

On Sunday, they expressed concern for the plight of the captain of the boat, John Klusmer, who was arrested and charged with leaving the port without permission and endangering the lives of passengers.

US activists said his jail conditions were shocking and complained and that neither he nor the US passengers had received any help from the US embassy.

Members of the US Boat to Gaza began an open-ended fast outside the embassy, "calling on the US government to defend our right to sail out of Greece."

About 100 of the activists, middle-aged Americans and Europeans, staged a protest in Athen's parliament square Sunday evening. The square was the scene of riots earlier this week over the government's austerity cuts.

They tried to deliver a protest statement to the foreign ministry, but it was closed.

The activists have also denounced the authorities of tying up the 11 vessels in paperwork over the past week. And they accuse Israel of having sabotaged two of the vessels, a claim dismissed by the Israeli authorities.

The Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip on Sunday repeated its calls for Greece to allow the flotilla to set sail for the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian territory.

And in Athens, Moustafa Barghouti, the head of the Palestinian National Initiative (PLI) and a passenger on the flotilla, expressed surprise and disappointed at the response from Western countries.

"They claim to support the Arab Spring but don't support the Palestinian Spring," he told AFP.

But Greece insisted it "actively supports the resumption of peace talks" and that its position on "lifting the Gaza blockade and improving the humanitarian conditions" in the area, remained unchanged.

It also welcomed the support of the Middle East Quartet, which had issued a statement on Saturday trying to dissuade the activists from going any further with their aid mission.

It called on those hoping to deliver aid to Gaza to do so "through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings."

And it urged governments to "discourage" activists and called for "restraint", recalling the bloody end to last year's flotilla.

In May last year, Israeli commandos stormed one of the vessels, killing nine Turkish activists and sparking a diplomatic storm.

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