As the flotilla of ships trying to break the blockade of Gaza sailed toward the region on Thursday, Israel stepped up both its diplomatic and public diplomacy efforts trying to forestall a possible public relations disaster.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal met separately on Thursday with the ambassadors from Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Sweden and Ireland – countries from which the ships involved in the flotilla have set sail – and reiterated the country’s position that the move is nothing more than a “provocation.”

Gal said that Gaza is under the control of Hamas, which does not have the well-being of Gaza’s citizens at the top of its agenda.

Gal told the ambassadors that Israel has the “inherent natural right” to defend its citizens and prevent the unsupervised transfer of supplies into Gaza since Hamas, under Iran’s tutelage, continues to arms itself with ammunition and rockets after years of targeting Israeli citizens.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who hasn’t yet commented publicly on the issue, convened the forum of seven ministers two days ago where it was decided that the flotilla would be stopped and not allowed to reach Gaza.

The Defense Ministry has issued orders prohibiting the entrance of the vessel into Gaza, and Israel requested in vain that the countries from which the ships were leaving prevent their departure.

Parallel to Gal’s meetings, the Foreign Ministry took journalists Thursday to a detention area at Ashdod Port where the indeterminate number of passengers now on the boats will be held and then deported. The facility is equipped to hold some 550 people, and consular representatives from the Foreign Ministry, as well as Interior Ministry representatives, will be on hand to do the paperwork and process the deportations.

One official said that the message the government was trying to send with the tours was clear: Israel was prepared and was not going to let the boats pass. The difference between this flotilla and a number of attempts to break the blockade in the past, the official said, was the sheer number of people involved.

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday issued a statement calling on the organizers to off-load the cargo at Ashdod Port, where it will be inspected and then transferred into Gaza via regular channels. The statement said that Israel would use all the means at its disposal to prevent the boats from breaking Israeli and international law, and that the responsibility for this will rest with the organizers of this “propaganda flotilla” and its participants, the owners of the ships and the countries from which the boats set sail.

“The flotilla is a political and media provocation initiated by anti-Israeli activists and Islamist extremists under the cover of a humanitarian campaign,” the statement read.

The statement went on to say that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and that thousands of tons of material and goods go into Gaza every day.

The Government Press Office, as part of the government’s efforts to combat the flotilla, released background information on the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which is involved in the campaign.

According to the statement, this organization, founded in Istanbul in 1995, was outlawed in Israel in 2008 because it “had become a major component in the global fund-raising machine for Hamas.”

The foundation’s declared goal, according to the statement, is to provide assistance to Islamic groups in various places around the world, mainly in Asia.

“The IHH has a radical Islamic orientation and is closely related to the extremist Islamic brotherhood,” the statement read.

“As part of this outlook, the IHH supports the Hamas terrorist organization and does not bother to hide its affiliation with Hamas. In recent years, primarily since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, the IHH has organized public conferences in Turkey to demonstrate its support for Hamas, and senior Hamas officials have openly participated in these public displays.”

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