Navy commandos will board the nine international aid ships sailing toward Gaza City if they don’t turn back, and the commandos will be armed in case terrorists are hiding aboard, defense officials said on Thursday.
The ships are scheduled to try to break the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip on Saturday. They are carrying around 750 activists, including diplomats and journalists, as well as about 10,000 tons of supplies.
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Top IDF officers said on Thursday that the navy will not “take any chances” if and when it boards the ships, and will immediately inspect them for explosives, including using bomb-sniffing dogs from the IDF’s Oketz K9 Unit.
The navy plans to board the ships if they refuse to turn around. The ships will receive a number of warnings from the navy as they begin to make their approach to the Gaza Strip, starting from a distance of about 65 kilometers. If the ships are commandeered, they will be sailed to the Ashdod Port, where the government has set up tents to hold the activists.
The activists will be taken into the tents for identification and medical attention, and asked to leave the country voluntarily. If they refuse, they will be arrested and transferred to the custody of the Prisons Service and the Interior Ministry.
Foreign Ministry officials will be present to handle the diplomats who are on board the ships, while representatives of the Government Press Office will be responsible for the journalists.
“We are on a humanitarian and solidarity action. We intend to continue it until we reach our goal and will not be stopped,” flotilla organizer Dror Feiler said.
Feiler, 68, a
musician who lives in Stockholm and has renounced his Israeli
citizenship, said he brought a saxophone with him and would greet
Israeli sailors boarding his boat with music “from the time when Jews
didn’t have armies and police to harass freedom fighters, when Jews
were victims, and were standing at the forefront of the fight for the
dignity of people.”
IDF sources said the military was planning on not having to use any
force during the operation but was prepared for any scenario that could
develop, including the possibility that the ships have been rigged with
explosives by terrorists.
“Until we are on board, we will not know for sure who and what are on the ships,” a senior officer said.
The operation will involve thousands of IDF and security personnel,
including a number of elite units, trained in non-lethal crowd
dispersion tactics that will be used, if needed, when boarding the
Late Thursday evening, Cypriot officials assured Israel that Cyprus
would not let the flotilla anchor near its shores, sail in its
territorial waters or use its ports.