Gantz orders navy to board flotilla

"Goods can be unloaded at the Ashdod port, will be transferred into Gaza Strip via the legal land crossings," IDF spokesperson says; activists refuse earlier offer to head to port in Egypt or to turn around.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, REUTERS
November 4, 2011 14:04
3 minute read.
Gaza-bound Canadian boat "Tahrir"

Gaza-bound Canadian boat "Tahrir". (photo credit: Freedom Waves/Facebook)

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz ordered the navy to board the flotilla vessels "should they refuse radio requests," an IDF spokesperson said on Friday afternoon.

"Goods can be unloaded at the Ashdod port and will be transferred into the Gaza Strip via the legal land crossings," the spokesperson stated.

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As the two-boat Gaza flotilla approached the region, the navy made first radio contact with the activists. The IDF informed the vessels that their current course was leading them toward a naval closure off the coast of Gaza, which is in line with international law.

The vessels were informed that they could turn around and prevent an infringement of the closure or head to a port in Egypt. The activists on board refused to heed the navy's call and refused to act in accordance with the instructions they were given. The flotilla was heading toward the area under closure, the navy said.

Earlier on Friday activists tweeted they were "still heading for Gaza with the Saoirse" and that there had been no sign of the IDF yet.

"We are delighted to hear Palestinians in fishing boats are getting ready to welcome us," they said, adding that they are 70 miles [113 kilometers] from the shores of Gaza.

The activists set sail from Turkey on Wednesday aboard the Tahrir and Saoirse yachts carrying medical supplies. The Israeli military had said it would not permit them to breach its blockade.


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According to flotilla organizers, Israel Navy ships are about 11 kilometers from their yachts, Israel Radio reported. The organizers instructed the activists to not resist IDF forces should they be stopped.

An IDF spokesperson said on Friday the "Israel Navy is prepared to stop vessels attempting to break the maritime security blockade on Gaza."

According to Army Radio, the IDF prepared itself on Friday morning for the arrival of the Gaza-bound flotilla carrying about thirty pro-Palestinian activists.

The United States warned on Thursday that the new effort by pro-Palestinian activists to send the flotilla to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip was dangerous and urged US citizens not to take part.

In May 2010, nine Turkish activists, including one with dual US-Turkish nationality, were killed in an Israeli raid on a similar convoy that nearly ruptured ties between Turkey and Israel, both critical US allies in the region.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington had been in touch with the Turkish government on Thursday about the flotilla, and had also spoken to Israeli officials.

"My sense of this was that, given the way this came together there was some element of surprise for both the Turkish government and our own government," Nuland said.

She said the United States had sought clarification on news reports that Turkish warships might be accompanying the flotilla and were told "quite emphatically" by Turkey that this was not the case.

"We've been clear to them that we think that would be an extremely bad idea and they've now reassured us that that is not what they are doing in this case," she said.

Nuland repeated US warnings about earlier flotilla plans, saying that US citizens who take part in efforts to deliver material support or other resources to Hamas could face civil and criminal penalties. Hamas has been officially designated as by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.

The activists on board the Canadian and Irish vessels came from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United States, and included Palestinians and at least one Israeli Arab citizen, according to organizers. Turkey has stressed that the vessels were not Turkish-flagged, had no Turkish passengers and the captains were not Turkish.


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