Israeli navy will confront the international aid flotilla to Gaza

AFP , Monday 27 Jun 2011

Israeli government approves plan to repel new Gaza flotilla

Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, (Reuters).

Israel's security cabinet on Monday ordered the navy to stop an international aid flotilla from breaching a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip but to avoid clashes with activists on board.

"Members of the (security) cabinet decided today following a debate on the flotilla that the state of Israel will be determined in stopping the flotilla's arrival in Gaza," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

But forces would be ordered to do so "with minimal confrontation, as far as possible, with those on board the ships," it said without giving further details.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon also said ministers had decided to rethink a threat to punish foreign journalists participating in the convoy by barring them from entering Israel for up to 10 years.

"The prime minister heard about the decision in the media, like I did, and was surprised by it. We are going to study the issue and reconsider the decision," Yaalon told public radio.

The closed-door meeting was the second session on the flotilla in as many days.

On Sunday, ministers in the forum were briefed on the military's preparations for the 10-ship convoy which is expected to set sail from Greece later this week.

During the meeting, ministers decided not to allow the ships to anchor in Gaza, although they would be allowed to unload their cargo at the Israeli port of Ashdod or Egypt's El-Arish port for checks, media reports said.

If no weapons or ammunition were found, the cargo would be transferred to the Gaza Strip.

Public radio said Cairo had already agreed to allow the ships to dock at El-Arish which lies some 30 miles (50 kilometres) west of the Gaza border.

Israel Hayom newspaper quoted navy chief Eliezer Marom as telling ministers that his men were better prepared than they were last May, when marine commandos stormed the lead ship of a previous flotilla, killing nine Turkish nationals.

"Our forces are ready to stop the flotilla and not to allow the ships to reach Gaza," an unnamed political source also told the paper.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and several international leaders have urged the flotilla not to set sail, and Washington has warned US nationals not to join the attempt to break the Israeli embargo.

About 350 pro-Palestinian activists from 22 countries including France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Greece and Canada are set to join the "Freedom Flotilla II" in a bid to break Israel's five-year blockade on the coastal territory which is home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

Israel first imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2006 after militants there snatched Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a deadly cross-border raid. He is still being held.

A ban on civilian goods and foodstuffs was eased last year but many restrictions remain in place.

Around seven of the vessels are already docked in Greece while several other will join them later on, media reports said.

But the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish-owned ferry which was the target of the bloodshed last year, will not be taking part in a move which has been welcomed by Israeli officials and helped ease fears in Israel of a violent confrontation, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Monday.

Organisers said the boats would set sail from various Greek ports this week and were to give further details at a press conference in Athens later on Monday.

Two cargo vessels will carry medicines, a fully-equipped ambulance and cement.

Last week, Washington slammed the flotilla plans as "irresponsible and provocative," saying all aid to Gaza could be delivered through Ashdod.

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