US warns flotilla activists not to challenge Gaza blockade

Washington says US citizens who take part in efforts to deliver material support or other resources to Hamas could face civil, criminal penalties; IDF not expecting violence, but prepared for any scenario.

By REUTERS,
November 3, 2011 22:17
2 minute read.
Canadian boat Tahrir [file]

Canadian boat Tahrir flotilla_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

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

Activists set sail from Turkey on Wednesday aboard two yachts carrying medical supplies. The Israeli military said it would not permit them to breach its blockade.

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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 27 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.

Israel has offered to unload any aid supplies and deliver them to Gaza. Israel permits humanitarian aid, food and other supplies to enter Gaza for its 1.5 million people, many of them impoverished refugees, via land crossings it closely monitors. Gaza also has a border with Egypt over which goods are imported.

An IDF spokesman said on Thursday that the Navy is fully prepared for the arrival of the two-boat flotilla.

The IDF is not expecting violent clashes with passengers on-board the vessels, but is prepared for all scenarios.


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