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Brickell satellite firm Inmarsat accused of aiding Hamas

For years after she moved to Sderot, a dusty outpost near Israel's border with Gaza, life was quiet for Michelle Fendel. With her husband, Rabbi David Fendel, the Long Island-born transplant helped start a school in the idyllic countryside.

Today, Sderot is anything but picturesque. When an alarm network blares — a weekly occurrence — residents have ten or 15 seconds to dive for cover before a Gazan missile attack lands.

"This is a regular city with schools and banks, but we've got missiles dropping on our heads with no warning," Fendel says in a phone interview from her home.

With the help of a Jewish legal group, Fendel filed suit last week in Miami-Dade court against an unlikely foe she says is partly to blame for the violence — an international satellite firm with an office in Brickell.

Here's her logic: The company, Inmarsat, provides "communication services" to a flotilla of ships trying to pierce a blockade around the Gaza Strip. Those efforts, she says, support Hamas, which governs Gaza. And which, in Fendel's view, would like nothing more than to blow up her house.

"Anyone who breaks this embargo is endangering our lives and our kids' lives, and it's not fair," she says.

Like most Middle Eastern conflicts, of course, the story isn't quite so black-and-white.

For one thing, activists counter that Israel's blockade has created a humanitarian crisis for Gaza's 1.6 million residents. The ships, they say, carry only basic supplies. "We... bring aid and freedom to the people of Gaza," Nourdin El Ouali, a Dutch politician onboard the ships, told Reuters last week.

For another, it's not clear what, if any, services Inmarsat — which also has corporate offices in London and Washington — really provides the flotilla.

A company spokesman in London declined to comment about the lawsuit but noted the United Nations requires any ship above a certain weight to carry an Inmarsat emergency beacon.

All are moot points to Fendel, who says the world has ignored for too long the deadly suffering of Sderot's residents. She hopes her Miami lawsuit helps stop the current flotilla — which is stuck in Greece during a diplomatic tug-of-war — and raises awareness.

"Anyone helping to break this blockade causes us serious danger," she says. "Our lives are on the line."


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