Security cabinet approves plans to stop flotilla

Activists with Hamas ties to be on board; organizers say Greek gov't created obstacles for some vessels in response to Israeli pressure.

The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)
The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)
While the organizers of the Gaza-bound flotilla said in Athens Monday that the passengers are taking to sea “without weapons,” government sources said Israel had information that some of the passengers had hid chemicals, such as sulfur, on the boats to be used against IDF soldiers.
The sources said that a number of those expected to be on board the vessels have ties to Hamas, including some of those who plan to board ships linked to European countries, such as Amin Abu Rashad, one of the organizers from the Netherlands, whose charitable organization was closed down by Dutch authorities for involvement in terror funding.
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Another participant is expected to be Mohammad Hannoun, the head of an Italian- Palestinian organization with links to Hamas and a third participant is believed to be a senior activist of a French charitable organization with close links to Hamas.
The smaller than anticipated flotilla (made up of eight to 10 ships) that is expected to set sail within the next few days, will be met by an IDF determined to keep the vessels from reaching their destination, but also with clear directives to keep the friction to a minimum.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, at a meeting of his Atzmaut faction, called the flotilla a “provocation” and said the directives given to the army were to prevent the boats from reaching Gaza.
“We will warn them first, we will explain, we will try to prevent friction, but in the final analysis the flotilla cannot pass through to Gaza. We are therefore calling for the flotilla to be canceled, and are saying that if there is any kind of friction or damage, the responsibility will rest with the participants and the organizers,” Barak said.
The security cabinet Tuesday morning held its second meeting in just over 12 hours to discuss the flotilla, and afterward, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying the security cabinet decided that Israel “will be determined to prevent the arrival of the flotilla to Gaza, with as little amount of friction as possible with the passengers of the ships.”
Monday morning’s meeting was a continuation of a meeting the night before where the ministers heard details from senior IDF and navy officials on their plans to prevent the boats from reaching their destination.
The ministers were told that the flotilla will number a maximum 10 vessels, and a few hundred – rather than thousands – of activists. The security cabinet approved the plans.
None of this, however, seemed to deter the organizers, who held a press conference in Athens reaffirming their intention to sail for Gaza.
Their plans, however, may be postponed for a few days since a massive labor stoppage is expected in Greece on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the Greek parliament’s debating of new austerity measures. The Greek ports are expected to take part in the work stoppage.
Officials in Jerusalem expressed satisfaction that the Greek press for the most part did not cover the press conference. According to the officials, the issue was pushed to the margins in the Greek media because of the country’s economic crisis.
The Free Gaza Movement, the main umbrella group behind the flotilla, released a statement Monday saying that a French vessel had already left port in Corsica, France, and was to meet up with “at least nine other vessels” sailing to Gaza.
The statement said that in the coming days the rest of the vessels – “two cargo ships and seven other passenger boats” – will leave from various ports “to a meeting point in international waters from which the boats will sail all together towards Gaza.”
The statement said the flotilla was not “simply about increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza. It is about freedom for Palestinians in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.”
The statement said the participants were taking to sea “without weapons, protection or threat of force.”