The Gaza protest flotilla changed course to gain distance from the Israeli navy boats which had hailed them, demanded they identify themselves and warned them they would not be allowed to reach Gaza, an Al-Jazeera reporter with the flotilla said just past midnight on Monday. According to the report, the flotilla organizers wish any confrontation to occur during daylight hours rather than in the dark.
The IDF contacted the boats by radio, clarified that the Gaza Strip is
a closed military zone and offered the sailors two options: to follow
the navy to Ashdod Port or be commandeered by commandos, according to
The initial contact took place about 200 km. off the Gaza Coast.
Flotilla organizers said they detected three Israel Navy ships on the
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Passengers on the ships were instructed to don life vests as organizers warned of potential Israeli violence.
Israel Radio quoted the flotilla’s organizers as saying they did not expect the navy to meet them so far out at sea.
International activists promised to send more aid ships to the
besieged Gaza Strip late Sunday night, as the Israel Navy moved to
intercept a flotilla of international vessels that were attempting to
break the blockade of the Strip.
Israeli Navy ships set sail earlier Sunday night for what was expected to be a dramatic showdown out at sea as they try to prevent a flotilla of international aid ships from breaking the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The nighttime standoff occurred after the six-ship flotilla’s departure
was delayed for several days by diplomatic and mechanical difficulties.
The boats finally set sail on Sunday afternoon with the aim of arriving
at 2 p.m. on Monday.
Mary Hughes, one of the founders of the Free Gaza Movement, told The Jerusalem Post from Cyprus that the group was determined to reach Gaza.
“They [the Israel Navy] have stopped us before in various ways and we do not intend be intimated,” Hughes said. “We have so many people who want to go to Gaza so it doesn’t matter what the Israelis do to us. As long as people want to go and to send boats it will continue.”
The three cargo ships and three passenger ships are carrying materials that Israel bars from reaching Gaza on a regular basis, like cement and other building materials, because they can be used by Hamas to build bunkers. The activists said they also were carrying hundreds of electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water purifiers.
The navy plans to stop the ships and sail them to the Ashdod Port where their cargo will be unloaded, inspected and then transferred, via land crossings, to the Gaza Strip. The passengers are to be deported. Those who refuse to leave the country would be arrested.
Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists are on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Máiread Corrigan-Maguire, European legislators and a Holocaust survivor.
The mission has experienced repeated delays, both due to mechanical problems and a decision by Cyprus to bar any boat from sailing from its shore to Gaza. The ban forced a group of European lawmakers to depart from the Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island late on Saturday.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon responded to what he called “anti-Semitic chants” that came from the ship’s passengers and were broadcast on Israel Radio.
Some of the passengers on the ships were recorded shouting chants to remember Haifa since the army of Muhammad will soon return.
condemns the anti-Semitic chants that were publicized this morning,”
Ayalon said. “The fact that participants on the flotilla would chant
such things shows the true nature of some of the participants and its
real motivation. This amply demonstrates that many are not against a
particular policy of the Israeli government, but have very real and
dangerous hatred for Jews and the Jewish state.”AP contributed to this report