Activist Naimh Moloughney packs bags to be loaded on to MV Rachel Corrie in Dundalk harbour before it left for Gaza in May

ACTIVISTS with the Free Gaza Movement are refusing to pay thousands of euro in commercial port fees to secure the release of the Rachel Corrie, which was seized by Israeli authorities.

The organisation has said it refuses to entertain any notion of paying the bill, believed to be in the region of €3,000, for a ship it insists was illegally seized and held at the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Following legal negotiations last week, it is understood the Ashdod port authority may now waive the fee to avoid any more embarrassment over the treatment of the vessels.

The Rachel Corrie will be sold on its release to meet debts of around €300,000 incurred as a result of the flotilla project. It is one of six ships still being kept at Ashdod.

The fate of the flotilla boats has attracted significant international attention since the shooting dead of nine Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara last May as it attempted to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Organisers believe the ships may have suffered extensive damage and have said that, aside from refusing to pay port duties, the door remains open for legal action over their condition.

Other cases are also progressing in relation to the theft of property from the vessels, including equipment and even cash taken from activists amounting to around $1 million (€788,000).

Speaking to the Sunday Tribune from the Palestinian territories, Huwaida Arraf, a solicitor and chair of the Free Gaza Movement, said there was never any notion of paying harbour fees.

"Talks are still going on as to the logistics of releasing the boats," she said. "They should have been paying us because we haven't seen the boats and we don't know what kind of condition they are in but I doubt that they are in very good condition. Not only did they stop us but they held onto our boats."

Meanwhile, a downpayment of around €20,000 is to be paid on the next Irish flotilla ship which is located somewhere in the Mediterranean in the next two to three weeks, but due to concerns over "Israeli sabotage" details are strictly confidential.

Dr Fintan Lane of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) said fundraising efforts are now well under way for the next flotilla which should launch later this year in spite of the aggressive Israeli response.

"We want to get two boats but we are taking a practical and realistic approach. We will secure the first one and then if the fundraising allows we will look at another one," he said.

However, in view of claims that Israeli agents were monitoring the Rachel Corrie's preparations in Dundalk before it set sail, there are serious concerns over security.

"We are concerned that they could attempt to sabotage boats in the run-up to the flotilla so we have to take precautions," said Lane. "We are not paranoid; at the end of the day it's a very open project. We want to avoid the situation whereby Israel sabotages our boats before the flotilla and I don't think that's paranoid.

"The Israelis have shown on numerous occasions that they are willing to operate far from their own state. The point is that they do that without blinking and they don't pay a lot of attention to international law."