The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)
While the organizers of the Gaza-bound flotilla said in Athens Monday that the
passengers are taking to sea “without weapons,” government sources said Israel
had information that some of the passengers had hid chemicals, such as sulfur,
on the boats to be used against IDF soldiers.
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The sources said that a
number of those expected to be on board the vessels have ties to Hamas,
including some of those who plan to board ships linked to European countries,
such as Amin Abu Rashad, one of the organizers from the Netherlands, whose
charitable organization was closed down by Dutch authorities for involvement in
Another participant is expected to be Mohammad Hannoun,
the head of an Italian- Palestinian organization with links to Hamas and a third
participant is believed to be a senior activist of a French charitable
organization with close links to Hamas.
The smaller than anticipated
flotilla (made up of eight to 10 ships) that is expected to set sail within the
next few days, will be met by an IDF determined to keep the vessels from
reaching their destination, but also with clear directives to keep the friction
to a minimum.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, at a meeting of his Atzmaut
faction, called the flotilla a “provocation” and said the directives given to
the army were to prevent the boats from reaching Gaza.
“We will warn them
first, we will explain, we will try to prevent friction, but in the final
analysis the flotilla cannot pass through to Gaza. We are therefore calling for
the flotilla to be canceled, and are saying that if there is any kind of
friction or damage, the responsibility will rest with the participants and the
organizers,” Barak said.
The security cabinet Tuesday morning held its
second meeting in just over 12 hours to discuss the flotilla, and afterward, the
Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying the security cabinet decided
that Israel “will be determined to prevent the arrival of the flotilla to Gaza,
with as little amount of friction as possible with the passengers of the
Monday morning’s meeting was a continuation of a meeting the
night before where the ministers heard details from senior IDF and navy
officials on their plans to prevent the boats from reaching their
The ministers were told that the flotilla will number a
maximum 10 vessels, and a few hundred – rather than thousands – of activists.
The security cabinet approved the plans.
None of this, however, seemed to deter the organizers, who held a press
conference in Athens reaffirming their intention to sail for Gaza.
plans, however, may be postponed for a few days since a massive labor stoppage
is expected in Greece on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the Greek parliament’s
debating of new austerity measures. The Greek ports are expected to take part in
the work stoppage.
Officials in Jerusalem expressed satisfaction that the
Greek press for the most part did not cover the press conference. According to
the officials, the issue was pushed to the margins in the Greek media because of
the country’s economic crisis.
The Free Gaza Movement, the main umbrella
group behind the flotilla, released a statement Monday saying that a French
vessel had already left port in Corsica, France, and was to meet up with “at
least nine other vessels” sailing to Gaza.
The statement said that in the
coming days the rest of the vessels – “two cargo ships and seven other passenger
boats” – will leave from various ports “to a meeting point in international
waters from which the boats will sail all together towards Gaza.”
statement said the flotilla was not “simply about increasing humanitarian aid to
Gaza. It is about freedom for Palestinians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied
The statement said the participants were taking
to sea “without weapons, protection or threat of force.”