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Conscience their lodestar, Israeli violence their sword of Damocles,the Boats of Mercy sail for Gaza

category galway | rights, freedoms and repression | news report author Monday August 18, 2008 17:39author by TD - Free Palestine Campaign Report this post to the editors

Creating "a dangerous precedent" whose "fate will be the same."?

More the decks of a Noah's ark than a cobblestoned trading emporium, Free Palestine Campaign activists took to rain deluged Shop Street last Saturday in solidarity with the brave women and men who presently will be sailing from Cyprus in two boats to break the medieval siege of Gaza and on what Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire, calls a "pilgrimage of justice and peace."


Already, activists from the Free Gaza Movement have received phone calls, warning them that their boats will be blown up and asking them if they know how to swim - chilling, when one recalls that in 1988, a day after three Palestinian Liberation Organization officers were killed in the Cypriot port of Limassol by a bomb planted in their car, the PLO ship the Sol Phryne, on a similar mission of sailing to Haifa was damaged in a mine attack . PLO officials accused Israel of planting the mine, which ripped a six-foot hole in the ferry's hull. Israeli officials did not deny it, and the transport minister at the time said that if the PLO gets another ship "its fate will be the same." PLO officials accused Israel of planting the mine, which ripped a six-foot hole in the ferry's hull. Israeli officials did not deny it, and the transport minister at the time said that if the PLO gets another ship "its fate will be the same."

Already the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting that: "According to the Foreign Ministry, Israel is within its rights to use force against the seafarers ... A position paper by the Foreign Ministry's legal department says Israel has the right to use force against the demonstrators as part of the Oslo Accords ... the Foreign Ministry's paper means that security forces could detain the vessels upon entry to Gaza's territorial waters, arrest the passengers and haul the ship to Israel, where the detainees could be interrogated.” as Ramzi Kysia on the Free Gaza website points out (see Related Link): "The Oslo accords expired in 1999, but even when they were in place they never advocated or allowed Israel to use deadly force against nonviolent human rights workers. However, Israel has decided to interpret the now-defunct accords as giving them permission to act violently against us.

Given this situation, we, the members of the Free Gaza Movement, would like to make two things very clear to the government of Israel:

1) We are nonviolent human rights activists and we have vowed to take no violent action, in either word or deed, against any other human beings - including against Israeli government and military officials who, apparently, wish us harm.

2) The threats and intimidation that we have received these past few days, though disturbing, do not even come close to the suffering imposed on 1.4 million Palestinians through the illegal and immoral Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. Given the enormity of this crisis, we will not be deterred.
We will sail to Gaza, and this siege will be lifted".

It is also chilling to remember the Gaza-based Popular Committee Against the Siege (PCAS) last reported the number of victims who had died preventable deaths as a result of unattainable medical care under the siege as 212, the latest two victims including an 11-month-old infant and a44-year-old father of eight. Both died after being denied permits to exit Gaza for treatment. and that PCAS lists 107 classes of basic medicines that are depleted in Gaza, 97 more nearing depletion, 136 halted or not functioning medical instruments and over 1,500 patients who need to leave the Strip for medical treatment.

The Boats of Mercy will be carrying humanitarian relief in the form of 100 hearing aids, etc, they will also or should be carrying the conscience of the world but won't, not when it comes to Israel and its curious anesthetizing effect on, for the want of a better phrase, "the morality of the 'international community,'" for when and if Israeli violence is visited on the human rights activists, Israel and the west will, inevitably, be seeking refuge beneath the white of the sepulchre or what Richard Falk terms "the self-righteous, one-way, legal/moral screen with positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted violence"? Anyone for Ground Hog Day? : from Barack Obama again reasserting "Israel's right to defend itself" (his justification for Israel's 2006 attack on Lebanon) to our current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, blaming the victims (same as the then MfFA, Dermot Ahern blaming Galway based activist, Treasa Ni Cheannnabain as the manufacturer of her own dire straits, when called on to assist the beleaguered Treasa, trapped in the Gaza Strip by the Egyptians,

As Noam Chomsky pointed out in a November 8, 2007 article, Hypocrisies and Hope in Annapolis: "The crimes against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and elsewhere ... are so shocking that the only emotionally valid reaction is rage and a call for extreme action. But that does not help the victims, and is likely to harm them", the Free Gaza Movement has chosen nonviolent action, for the beauty of it, according to one of the participants, Jeff Halper; “If we break the siege, we win, and even if they arrest us, we win, because this will expose the face of the occupation and prove Israel is still an occupier in Gaza." - the besieger of an open air prison with destruction and genocide in mind: "To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole" (international law scholar, Richard Falk).

At least, occupied Ireland through the centuries had the the hope and luxury of Spanish and French military assistance and succour:

O! The French are on the sea
Says the sean-bhean bhocht

Will Ireland then be free?
Says the sean-bhean bhocht;
Yes! Ireland shall be free,
From the centre to the sea

In comparison, Palestine's hopes or at least some of them are nailed to the masts of two frail boats bound for their D-day/their Mercy-day and probable Israeli violence on the Gaza beaches, we wish them safety and success.

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Caption: Embedded video Youtube Video

author by TD - FPCpublication date Mon Aug 18, 2008 17:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Saturday's photos.




author by TD - FPCpublication date Mon Aug 18, 2008 18:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This update has just arrived in my email;

For more information, please contact:
Greta Berlin, Cyprus
+357 99 081 767
Angela Godfry-Goldstein, Israel
+972 547 366 393

NICOSIA, CYPRUS (18 Aug. 2008) - In a letter today to the Free Gaza Movement, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged that the group of international human rights activists attempting to break the siege of Gaza were “humanitarian,” and stated that the Israeli government “assume[s] that
your intentions are good.” Greta Berlin, one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement stated that,
“Since the Foreign Minister’s office responded to our invitation to join us, and said that we have good intentions, we now fully expect to reach Gaza.”

According to recent reports in the Israeli media however, the Israeli military is preparing to use force to stop the nonviolent campaigners from reaching Gaza. It’s not clear if the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs signals a change of policy, or is simply an attempt to open up an official dialogue between the state of Israel and the Free Gaza Movement regarding the current blockade.

The Free Gaza Movement is preparing to sail two ships into Gaza carrying 40 human rights workers from 17 different countries. They will also deliver hearing aids for children who have lost some or all of their hearing due to Israeli sound bombs and sonic booms.

The ships have been named the SS Free Gaza, and the SS Liberty - in recognition of the USS Liberty, a U.S. Navy ship, carrying 340 that was attacked by Israeli fighter planes and torpedo boats on 8 June 1967, assassinating 34 American sailors and wounding 170.

The Free Gaza Movement hopes to draw attention to the devastating consequences of the Israeli blockade by actively demonstrating the power of non-violent direct action to change inhumane governmental policies.

18 August 2008
Noam Katz
Director, Public Relations Department
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel

Dear Mr. Katz,

The Free Gaza Movement thanks Foreign Minister Livni for your response regarding our efforts to break the siege of Gaza. We appreciate Israel’s formal recognition of our human rights mission, as well as its acknowledgement that our “intentions are good.”

However, several factual errors in your letter need to be addressed. You wrote, “Your claim that the residents of the Gaza Strip are suffering from hunger is groundless…” According to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “only 43.5% of basic commercial food import needs were met during the period between 3 and 30 December 2007.”Furthermore, in May 2008, several international aid organizations, including CARE International UK, CAFOD,Christian Aid, Oxfam, and Medecins du Monde UK, stated that, “the stranglehold on Gaza’s borders has made ... the work of the UN and other humanitarian agencies ... virtually impossible. Only a trickle of medicine, food, fuel and other goods is being allowed in. [The Israeli Blockade of Gaza] has made people highly dependent on food aid, and brought the health system and basic services such as water and sanitation near to collapse.”

Although, we appreciate your offer to deliver humanitarian supplies for us, Israel’s deplorable track record of delivering supplies is, in fact, the very reason for our mission.

Your offer also slights our human-rights mission, which is to break your siege of Gaza. We intend to raise international awareness about the open-air prison called Gaza, where Israel collectively punishes 1.5 million Palestinians. We want to pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for Israel’s continued occupation. Finally, we want to uphold
Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, and journalists.

We would like to, once again, invite Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni to join us on our historic voyage to end the siege of Gaza, and to see first hand the devastating effects of Israeli policies on the men, women, and children of the Gaza Strip.

Greta Berlin, Ramzi Kysia, Tom Nelson
Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus
+357 99 081 767
18 August 2008
The Steering Committee for the Free Gaza Movement, Cyprus

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author by Fred Johnstonpublication date Mon Aug 18, 2008 19:14author email sylfredcar at iolfree dot ieauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is extremely brave and the sort of thing all of us should be proud of who have looked for justice for the Palestinians. It deserves our support. In stark contrast, I would draw your attention to certain comments made in what appeared to be a 'jokey' set of pieces on the 'Middle East' - Israel, shrewdly, was left out - in the 'Life magazine' section of yesterday's copy of The Sunday Independent. Under the heading, 'Arabian Sights,' it was reminiscent of the kind of article Punch might have enjoyed to present when it was publicly acceptable to bash lesser breeds such as the ignorant Paddies. Clearly, it is journalistically cool in some circles to make fun of Palestinians and of Arabs in general. Had such disgraceful writing been published regarding Israel, there would, and rightly, have been outrage and no doubt a 'phone call to the paper from the Israeli Ambassador. I have written to the NUJ at the Sunday Independent concerning the piece. It was juvenile, certainly, but I found it nasty and offensive to boot. Anyone else read it? In the meantime, congratulations again to the brave boat people.

author by Noel Clark - Palestine Solidarity Campaignpublication date Tue Aug 19, 2008 10:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Entreaty from Sari Bashi, Executive Director of Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement)

I write to ask you to join us in helping hundreds of Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip reach their universities abroad. Since June 2007, Gaza's borders have been closed, trapping 1.5 million people
including hundreds of talented young people accepted to universities abroad but prevented from reaching their studies. Last year, Israel permitted approximately 500 students and dependents to reach their studies abroad via "shuttle" services, but this year, Israel says that students will not be permitted to leave Gaza – except for a few dozen with prestigious scholarships to Western countries. Hundreds remain trapped, in danger of losing hard-won places at universities all over the world. I refer you to Gisha's report, " Held Back-Students Trapped in Gaza" (June 2008 ) and Gisha's Power Point Presentation, "Students STILL Trapped in Gaza" (July 2008 ).

Today we are launching an online campaign aimed at recruiting international support for the right of Palestinian students from the Gaza Strip to reach their studies abroad. By clicking on the banner
above you'll reach the campaign's mini-site:

The campaign is accessible in three languages - English , Arabic and Hebrew - and we hope to communicate it via e-mail, social networks,blogs and other websites.

How can you help?
1. Join the campaign by logging on to the mini-site and asking Israel's leaders to let students in Gaza access education;

2. Spread word of the campaign by forwarding this message to others;

3. Feature the banner on your website or blog. You may choose a banner to download at this link .

4. Click on the mini-site for further action.
Please join us in helping Gaza's young people exercise their right to freedom of movement and to access education – and to build a better future in the region.

Best Regards,

Sari Bashi
Executive Director
Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement



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author by Alan in Mayopublication date Tue Aug 19, 2008 11:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

We all hope this trip will be a sucess and that those brave people involved will return safely.

author by TD - FPCpublication date Wed Aug 20, 2008 11:23author address author phone Report this post to the editors

This morning, at 8:30 am Cyprus time, the Free Gaza and the Liberty, escorted by the Cypriot Coast Guard, pulled into the Northern side of the commercial port in Larnaca.

After a thorough inspection of both boats, the port authority will let the 20 passengers from Cyprus on board to make final preparations, including a memorial service for the more than 5000 Palestinians who have lost their lives since September 2000 as well as the 34 sailors aboard the USS Liberty who were killed by Israel in 1967. They, like the Palestinians, will not be forgotten. That service should be on Thursday, August 21 just before the boats begin their final journey to Gaza.

The boats will be in port for the next two days for media to photograph. The human rights workers on board will also be available for interviews.

“The siege of Gaza is a form of collective punishment in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The indiscriminate use of military power against civilians and civilian targets has resulted in serious war crimes." (John Dugard, when the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories)

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author by Mike Novackpublication date Wed Aug 20, 2008 13:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Keep in mind that there HASN'T up to this time been a proper test of whether the Israelis ARE "besieging" Gaza.

They might very well simply let these boats through in effect proving "see, no siege -- nobody before BOTHERED to try going into/out of Gaza this way". Just because the only ECONOMIC route is via Israel doesn't make that the only route.

That's the potential downside of this venture. If the israelis allow this then they have NO obligation to let any supplies in or people in/out via Israel and continued demands that they do so tantamount to denying the legitimacy of the EXISTENCE of Israel. Note that all previous attempts have, for this very political reason, been made FROM Israel because it is divisive to the Palestinians to do anything that forces recognition of the right of Israel TO EXIST.

Do you think that if the Israelis allow supply of Gaza this way the Gazans will be helped or hurt? Do you believe that there is enough interest/will in the rest of the world to keep Gaza supplied in this very expensive manner?

author by Razorpublication date Wed Aug 20, 2008 14:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"there HASN'T up to this time been a proper test of whether the Israelis ARE "besieging" Gaza"

What exactley does this mean Mike? Do you want to stick you fingers in the sides of the dying Palestinians?

"They might very well simply let these boats through in effect proving "see, no siege -- nobody before BOTHERED to try going into/out of Gaza this way". Just because the only ECONOMIC route is via Israel doesn't make that the only route."

How would that prvove there was no siege? Palestinian fishermen are not even allowed go more that a short distance off shore before they are shot at?

If Palestinians contorlled thier own territorial waters that would greatly ease their plight.

author by Ronpublication date Wed Aug 20, 2008 14:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"The indiscriminate use of military power against civilians and civilian targets has resulted in serious war crimes".
Same for the Gazans who use military power against Israeli civilians.

author by Vincentpublication date Wed Aug 20, 2008 15:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors


The fisherman who are regulaurly attacked by the Israeli navy would have to disagree with your rather peculiar theory that there may be no siege on Gazas sea border. A 6 mile limit is imposed there at this time and the waters are heavily patrolled and fishing vessels trying to go any farther than 6 miles have been, are and will be fired upon , sometimes by attack helicopters. Yes, unbelievable as it sounds, attack helicopters attacking litte fishing boats. Its definitely a siege, Mike.

If the two boats are allowed through it will be surprising to many as Israel puts great value on its siege as a political tool to try and destroy the Hamas government and keep a wedge driven between the Palestinians people who are divided between the West Bank and Gaza.
If suddenly a situation arises whereby the Palestinians can come and go freely from Gaza for education for Hospitalisation for general recreation and unimpeded international travel, then Hamas are going to look like saints.

For that reason alone, Israel will not let the Gaza port be opened and developed for anything like normal business. And to answer your final question; Yes, I personally do believe that there is enough interest/will in the rest of the world to keep Gaza supplied in this very expensive manner?

author by TD - Free Palestine Campaignpublication date Wed Aug 20, 2008 18:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

... in other countries this process might be described as ethnic cleansing.” (John Dugard, then UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories)

"Mike Novak," feel free to reflect on another of John Dugard's observations: “Israel violates international law as expounded by the Security Council and the International Court of Justice and goes unpunished. But the Palestinian people are punished for having democratically elected a regime unacceptable to Israel, the U.S. and the EU," if you feel the need to transcend yourself, this should be further grist to your conscience: "After feeling imprisoned for so long, it has been a psychological relief for Gazans to know that there is a way out ... but it does not resolve their crisis by any stretch of the imagination." (John Ging, local director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, reflecting on the Gaza breakout at the start of this year before Egypt in collusion with Israel sealed the prison again with additional border guards armed with water cannons, electric cattle prods and lethal force).

"Ron" : International law grants a people fighting an illegal occupation the right to use ‘all necessary means at their disposal’ to end their occupation, if your concern is "the indiscriminate use of military power against civilians and civilian targets," then the below statistics - overwhelmingly, the result of the "purity of arms" ethos of the Israeli army - the guardians of the "only democracy in the Middle East" should concern you further.?

* 1,050 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis and 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians since September 29, 2000.

* At least 4,862 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis and 1,057 Israelis killed by Palestinians since September 29, 2000

* 32,744 Palestinians have been injured and 8,341 Israelis since September 29, 2000.


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author by Benny Kaplan - Free Gaza Movementpublication date Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Mike Novack, shame on you! 14 Gazan fishermen have been murdered by the Israeli Navy the past four years as they fished off their coast.

Today, for them, at 1:30 pm, the passengers and crew of SS FREE GAZA and SS LIBERTY will hold a memorial service at the Northern end of the commercial port in Larnaca, Cyprus.

This service will also be held for the 34 American sailors killed aboard the US LIBERTY by Israeli forces in 1967.

Flowers will be laid in the water for these forgotten seamen from two countries; the Palestinians killed while trying to feed their families and the American sailors who were attacked by Israeli fighter jets and submarines for 75 minutes on June 8, 1967.

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author by Maureenpublication date Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Haaretz is reporting that: "Protest organizer Paul Larudee said the boats - the 21-meter Free Gaza and 18-meter Liberty - will set sail around midnight tonight from Larnaca port for the estimated 30-hour trip."

also, "They plan to deliver 200 hearing aids to a Palestinian charity for children and hand out 5,000 balloons ... Thomas Nelson, 64, said the group expects the Israeli navy to intercept the boats and arrest those onboard. The Portland, Oregon-based attorney said activists plan to resist any attempts to arrest them in a non-violent way. Nelson said there is no security threat to Israel here, except the truth and Israel is afraid of the truth. Nelson said lawyers from the U.S.-based National Lawyers' Guild would file legal action against Israel in an appropriate legal forum if Israeli authorities kidnap activists in international waters"

SS Liberty
SS Liberty

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author by TD - Free Palestine Campaignpublication date Fri Aug 22, 2008 13:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Statement to the Press upon Departure which took place at 9.06 a.m. today from Cyprus

Forty-six international human rights workers are now sailing to Gaza through international waters with one overriding goal: to break the Israeli siege that Israel has imposed on the civilian population of Gaza. Any action designed to harm civilians constitutes collective punishment (in the Palestinians’ case, for voting the “wrong” way) and is both illegal under international law and profoundly immoral. Our mission is to expose the illegality of Israel’s actions, and to break through the siege in order to express our solidarity with the suffering people of Gaza (and of the occupied Palestinian territory as a whole) and to create a free and regular channel between Gaza and the outside world.

Israel claims that since the “disengagement” in 2005 it no longer occupies Gaza. However, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international human rights organizations reject this claim since Israel still exerts effective control over Gaza. As an Occupying Power, Israel has a responsibility for the well-being of the people of Gaza under the provisions of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel has abused its control and responsibilities by wrongfully obstructing vital supplies and humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.

As Israel’s 41-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip defies international consensus, and because Israel has grossly violated its obligations, we do not recognize Israel’s right to stop us outside its own territorial waters, which we will not be approaching. To remove any “security” pretense that Israel may raise, we have had our boats inspected and certified by Cypriot authorities that they carry no arms or contraband of any kind. We have invited Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to join us on our voyage and, in fact, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has itself told us the Israeli government “assume[s] that your intentions are good.”

We are human rights activists, invited to visit Gaza by our Palestinian partners, and each of us has vowed to do no violence, in either word or deed. If Israel chooses to forcibly stop and search our ships, we will not forcibly resist. Such a search will be under duress and with our formal protest. After such a search, we fully expect the Israeli navy to stand aside, as we continue peacefully to Gaza. If we are arrested and brought to Israel, we will protest and prosecute our kidnapping in the appropriate forums. It is our purpose to show the power that ordinary citizens of the world have when they organize together to stand against injustice. Let there be no doubt: the policies of repression against the civilian population of Gaza represent gross violations of human rights, international humanitarian law, and constitute war crimes. The goal of our voyage is to break the illegal siege on the people of Gaza as a step toward ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

We are calling on all members and supporters to be alert to continuing press coverage of the campaign, and to be ready to act in support of the Free Gaza Movement if they encounter problems.

For further information and to receive boat updates:

Sister Anne commemorating 14 Gazan fishermen killed since 2004
Sister Anne commemorating 14 Gazan fishermen killed since 2004

Huwaida laying roses for 34 USS Liberty sailors
Huwaida laying roses for 34 USS Liberty sailors

In memoriam
In memoriam

author by Alan in Irelandpublication date Sat Aug 23, 2008 18:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The boat landed safely at Gaza this afternoon at around 4 pm Irish time. All well and thoudands and thousands there tyo greet them.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

author by Frank Adam - private citizenpublication date Mon Aug 25, 2008 10:36author address Manchesterauthor phone Report this post to the editors

It is ironically odd that the same sort of people who considered that in the 9/11 incident, "America had it coming," get so worked up about the USS Liberty incident !

Equally Humpty Dumpty in the Lewis Carroll repartee that, "When I use a word it means what I want it to mean," is the miasma of half truths and sloppy thinking around Gaza. As soon as Israel left the rocketeers started - hardly conducive to relations of 'connubium et commercium' as the Romans signed their treaties. Now where is it written or practised that a governemt is obliged to aid and assist with jobs and supplies to benefit a hostile power? and since when is throwing things at somebody not hostile?

Israel has absolutely no obligations to Gaza under any existing international practice and yet for the sake of the people there has delivered this year nearly 80 000 tons of supplies (80 freight trains nowadays) inclusive 15 000 tons of fuel.

It really is time that some people turned some criticism on Egypt the great Arab "brother" to allow transit for medical treatment and medicines and not just rocket smuggling that aggravates the situation. Surely if Arabs are family they should be of some constructive assisstance to their distressed relatives instead of locking them out?

The way in which Georgia (and the Olympics) have smothered the front pages recently shows where the real dangers and interests are. Come a big showdown of great powers amd Palestine will be the ennervating little sideshow it has always been. FDA

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