(photo credit: Creative Commons)
A group of US citizens have left for Athens to join a flotilla of ships planning to challenge Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
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The 36 participants from the US, as well as four crew members and nine journalists, are planning to sail on the US-flagged boat The Audacity of Hope in the 10-ship flotilla. One-quarter of the US participants reportedly are Jewish. The ship will have no humanitarian aid or other cargo on board, according to reports.
Part of the flotilla is scheduled to set sail from Athens on June 25.
"It's important that Jews are in this boat," New York labor attorney Richard Levy told AFP. "The Jewish lobby in this country is so powerful."
Nine Turkish activists aboard a flotilla last year were killed during
clashes with Israeli Navy commandos trying to stop the ship, called the Mavi Marmara
. IHH, the Turkish Islamic charity behind the flotilla effort, withdrew the Mavi Marmara
from this year's flotilla citing technical reasons.
In preparation for the event, Israel Navy held a large-scale exercise to prepare its forces for the operation to stop the flotilla.
The exercise involved naval commandos from Flotilla 13 - better known as
the Shayetet - as well as other naval units and special forces from
throughout the defense establishment, who were being included in the
operation as part of the lessons learned from the botched raid on the
The Israeli navy is under orders from the government to enforce the
Israeli sea blockade over Gaza, which officials have said is crucial for
preventing the flow of arms to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.