Flotilla passengers don life vests

Navy tells ships to come in peacefully to Ashdod harbor or be boarded.

May 30, 2010 23:56
3 minute read.
Gaza boats

Gaza boats 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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The Gaza protest flotilla ships were about 150 miles from Gaza late on Sunday night, they had been sighted by the Israeli navy and were in contact with them. Flotilla passengers had put on life vests and were on high alert, they reported via their live feed.

They were told by the navy they had two options: Either be boarded or follow the navy in to Ashdod harbor to be processed there.

An Al-Jazeera reporter aboard the flotilla said they had not expected to be intercepted by the Israeli navy so early, while still in international waters, and they were taken by surprise when hailed by the navy.

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Israeli Navy ships set sail earlier Sunday night for what was expected to be a dramatic showdown out at sea as they try to prevent a flotilla of international aid ships from breaking the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

After several days of delays due to diplomatic and mechanical difficulties, six ships set sail for the Gaza Strip on Sunday afternoon with the aim of arriving at the Palestinian port at 2 pm Monday.

Mary Hughes, one of the founders of the Free Gaza Movement, told The Jerusalem Post from Cyprus that the group was determined to reach Gaza.

“They [the Israel Navy Y.K.] has stopped us before in various ways and we do not intend to be intimated,” Hughes said. “We have so many people who want to go to Gaza so it doesn’t matter what the Israelis do to us. As long as people want to go and to send boats it will continue.”

The flotilla, which includes three cargo ships and three passenger ships, is carrying materials that Israel bars from reaching Gaza on a regular basis, like cement and other building materials. The activists said they also were carrying hundreds of electrical-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water purifiers.

After the ships are stopped, the Navy will sail them to the Ashdod Port where the cargo will be unloaded, inspected and then transferred, via land crossings, to the Gaza Strip. The passengers will be deported. Those who refuse to willingly leave the country will be arrested.

Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists are on the boats, including 1976 Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, European legislators and an elderly Holocaust survivor.

The mission has experienced repeated delays, both due to mechanical problems and a decision by Cyprus to bar any boat from sailing from its shore to Gaza. The ban forced a group of European lawmakers to depart from the breakaway Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island late Saturday.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas militants violently seized control of the seaside territory in June 2007.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon responded to what he called “anti-Semitic chants” that came from the ship’s passengers and were broadcast on Israel Radio.

According to a radio report, some of the passengers on the flotilla were recorded shouting chants to remember Haifa since the army of Mohammed will soon return.

"Israel condemns the anti-Semitic chants that were publicized this morning," Ayalon said. "The fact that participants on the flotilla would chant such things shows the true nature of some of the participants and its real motivation. This amply demonstrates that many are not against a particular policy of the Israeli government, but have very real and dangerous hatred for Jews and the Jewish State."

AP contributed to the report.

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