We’ll sail all the way to Gaza, flotilla organizers vow

Activists undettered by Ban’s call to stay away; ships should be allowed through, some IDF officers say

May 29, 2011 20:42
3 minute read.
The 'Mavi Marmara'

The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)

The IDF is preparing for the arrival of a protest flotilla that is set to try and break the blockade on the Gaza Strip in late June. The flotilla organizers announced on Sunday that the ships will sail, despite UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon request to the contrary.

While the government has yet to make a final decision on what to do with the vessels, efforts are being invested in two parallel tracks. On the one hand, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are investing significant diplomatic efforts in asking countries to work to prevent their citizens from participating in the flotilla.

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Ban calls on Mediterranean countries to stop Gaza flotilla
Turkey warns of 'necessary response' to flotilla violence

On the other hand, the navy has drafted operational plans to stop the flotilla at sea, as it stopped a similar flotilla last year on May 31. The Flotilla 13 naval commando unit – better known as the Shayetet – is to lead the operation and work closely with the air force.

Some IDF officers have suggested allowing the ships to reach the Gaza Strip after the navy inspects them to ensure that they are not carrying weapons or other forbidden supplies to Hamas.

The assumption within the IDF is that a majority of the passengers will engage in passive resistance but that there will likely be a group who will employ violence similar to the Turkish mercenaries who last year attacked navy commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara.

The next flotilla will include 13 or 14 ships and will include 1,500 passengers, Hussain Orach, the vice president of the IHH international relief organization, told Channel 2 on Sunday night. Orach invited Israel to choose any international body it wants to performs checks on the passengers and vessels involved in the flotilla.

He also praised Saturday’s opening of the Rafah crossing as “good news,” but added that the move would not stop the flotilla from proceeding as planned. He said the situation of Gazans improved following last year’s May 31 flotilla, and further efforts must be made to end the “unacceptable” blockade of the Strip, which he said is “against humanity.”

The Free Gaza Movement has said that the flotilla will set sail for Gaza in the end of June from various European ports.

On Sunday, the Free Gaza Movement said that while it welcomed Ban’s request to avoid violence, it will not heed his call to cancel the flotilla.

“We are not engaged in illegal activity in the Mediterranean; it is Israel’s blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians that is illegal.

And as head of the United Nations, he knows that the UN High Commission for Human Rights produced a report that identified the blockade of Gaza as collective punishment, a war crime,” the movement said in a press release.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, who led the IDF probe into last year’s navy raid, said on Sunday that if Turkey took responsibility for the flotilla and extended guarantees about its passengers and cargo, Israel should consider allowing the ships to reach Gaza. He said that the Egyptian decision to permanently open the Rafah crossing starting this past weekend made the flotilla illegitimate and unnecessary.

“This is theoretical since the Turkish government is not involved [in the flotilla effort], but it is always better if there is someone who is accountable on the other side,” Eiland said.

“This is currently not the case, but if, for example, the Turkish government would turn to us and say they want to send ships and that it will be coordinated with us, then we should not dismiss the request out of hand, he said.

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