(photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
A “flotilla” of four small boats is expected to sail to the territorial waters outside Gaza by at least Wednesday, and possibly as early as Monday, with Israel making clear that it has no intention of allowing the vessels to break the naval blockade and reach the Gaza Strip.
Among the passengers on the boats are Balad MK Basel Ghattas, whose presence has sparked a Knesset controversy, and former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki.
Israeli officials reiterated on Sunday that Jerusalem has no intention to allow the boats to reach Gaza, and that the organizers are well aware both that there is a legal naval blockade of the area, and that all humanitarian aid into Gaza can pass through established channels.
“This is just a provocation,” one official said.
The Prime Minister’s Office penned a letter to be given to the some 50 people on the boats expected to be towed into Ashdod, sarcastically welcoming them to Israel and saying that they apparently got lost.
Israeli living abroad speaks of Gaza-bound flotilla.
“Perhaps you meant to set sail for a place not far from here – Syria,” the letter reads.
“There the Assad regime is slaughtering its own people every day with the support of the murderous regime in Iran.”
Arab MK joining third Gaza-bound flotilla talks to Jpost
By contrast, the letter reads, Israel is dealing with a reality whereby terrorist organizations like Hamas try to attack innocent civilians.
“Against these efforts we are defending Israeli citizens in accordance to international law,” according to the letter.
The letter spelled out the number of trucks, and tons of aid and material that go into Gaza each day, saying it adds up to about 500,000 times the number of boats in the flotilla. At the same time, he said, Israel is not willing to allow the smuggling of arms to the Gaza Strip via the sea, which has been done repeatedly in the past.
Ann Ighe, a spokeswoman for Ship to Gaza Sweden, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the flotilla did not expect to be met with aggression by the navy.
“We are hoping for this to be recognized as it is – a political protest against a blockade,” she said from Greece, from where the Marianne av Göteborg – carrying some 18 people – recently embarked.
She said those on board the boat took an oath not to engage in violence by signing contracts that they will resist confrontation in a passive, nonviolent manner. She added that the crew did not expect the vessel to be boarded by security forces, but that they would be prepared for the possibility. This is expected to be the first boat to reach the waters outside Gaza.Julie Steigerwald contributed to this report.