Bloomberg News

Israel ‘Determined’ to Prevent Flotilla From Reaching Gaza

June 27, 2011

(Updates with government official in third paragraph, organizer in fifth.)

June 27 (Bloomberg) -- Israel is “determined” to prevent an international flotilla from breaking its embargo on the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

Israel will aim for “minimal friction” with flotilla passengers, according to a text message today from Netanyahu’s office after a Security Cabinet meeting.

The Israeli government is concerned that organizers are bringing on board chemicals they intend to use to attack soldiers, said an Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Among the passengers may be Hamas members and others who “intend to spill blood of Israelis,” he said.

A previous flotilla’s attempt to reach Gaza ended in violence on May 31, 2010, when Israeli naval commandos dropped from helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara, part of a six-boat convoy, and opened fire after the ship refused to stop. Israel says people on board shot first and attacked with iron bars, an allegation they denied. Nine Turks were killed.

“The flotilla participants have been very clear that they are non-violent activists, and all the boats will be searched at their points of departure to make sure that their cargo consists only of humanitarian aid,” Akram Bader, flotilla spokesman in Jerusalem, said by phone.

Israel Sees Provocation

Israel has called the latest planned attempt to reach Gaza a provocation and urged the international community to prevent it from taking place. Netanyahu backtracked on an announcement from the head of the Government Press Office yesterday that warned foreign journalists that those who take part in the flotilla may face sanctions, including arrest and a 10-year ban from Israel.

“When this was brought to his attention, the prime minister instructed that normal policies regarding infiltrators” not be applied to the journalists, according to a statement e-mailed today from Netanyahu’s office.

Ten ships will be leaving for Gaza over the next few days, one of the flotilla’s organizers, Dror Feiler, said today at a news conference in Athens. He declined to say when he expects the flotilla to reach the Hamas-controlled territory.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union. The group seized control of Gaza in 2007, after winning parliamentary elections the previous year, ending a unity government with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Audacity of Hope

The passengers of a boat due to depart for Gaza from Athens said it was detained by Greek police after an Israeli group filed a complaint against it. Those on the so-called U.S. Boat to Gaza, also known as the Audacity of Hope, said in a statement on their website today that they expect Greek authorities to let them make the journey.

“Israel is trying to outsource the siege of Gaza to Greece,” Feiler said.

If the boat isn’t allowed to depart Athens, the other ships will still meet up in the coming days in international waters and sail to Gaza, according to Bader. “If individual ships are prevented from sailing, the rest will continue unhindered,” Bader said.

--With assistance from Tom Stoukas in Athens. Editors: Terry Atlas, Steven Komarow

To contact the reporters on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net; Calev Ben-David in Jerusalem at cbendavid@bloomerg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.


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