Israel approves navy’s plan to attack Gaza aid flotilla

Gaza, (Pal Telegraph) – Israel’s security cabinet on Monday approved the navy’s plans to prevent an international aid flotilla from breaching the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, local media said.

“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were authorized to prevent it in a determined manner but one which would avoid causing casualties,” news Website Ynet reported, with Israeli public radio reporting the same.

“Ministers approved the navy’s operational plans to take over ships in the event they approach Gaza and attempt to breach the blockade,” it said.

The radio also said that ministers decided to rethink a threat to punish foreign journalists participating in the convoy by barring them from entering Israel for up to 10 years.

“(Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) heard about it on the news and asked to re-examine this issue because it’s problematic,” Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said, referring to Sunday’s warning from Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO).

“I know the prime minister was as surprised as I was to hear this,” he said, without disclosing who had made the decision to deliver the threat.

“There’s no way to stop the media in this day and age if they (are on board) anyway. It’s better not to clash with them.”

An Israeli official confirmed that the closed-door meeting, the second session in as many days, had taken place but refused to comment on its content.

On Sunday, ministers in the forum began hearing the military’s preparations for the 10-ship convoy which is expected to set sail from Greece later this week.

“Yesterday, the ministers decided not to allow the ships to anchor in the Gaza Strip, although they will be allowed to unload their cargo at (the Israeli port) of Ashdod or the Egyptian port of El-Arish,” Israeli army radio said.

“If no weapons or ammunition are found, the cargo will be transferred in its entirety to Gaza.”

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

Israel Hayom, a newspaper considered close to Prime Minister Netanyahu, 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 Turks.

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

About 350 pro-Palestinian activists from 22 countries are set to join the “Freedom Flotilla II” which is expected to comprise some 10 vessels.

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 embargo.

Bestselling Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell and a number of journalists are among those taking part in the fresh bid to break Israel’s five-year naval blockade on the coastal territory which is home to some 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.

Boats from Greece, France, Italy and Spain are among those joining the flotilla, although the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish-owned ferry which was the center of the bloodshed last year, will not be part of it.

Organizers 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 the Israeli port of Ashdod.

( / 28.06.2011)

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