Barak to Clinton: Stop Lebanese flotilla

Defense minister: Attempt to sail for Gaza a "needless provocation."

ehud barak 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ehud barak 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke Saturday with world leaders and urged them to take action to stop the planned Lebanese aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip.
Barak spoke by phone with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US National Security Advisor Jim Jones and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
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During his conversations, Barak said that Israel would allow the transfer of the supplies these ships are supposed to carry to Gaza after they are unloaded and inspected at the Ashdod Port.
“The attempt to sail the flotilla is an unnecessary provocation,” Barak said.
On Saturday, organizers of one ship said they were considering a new route to Gaza after Cyprus refused to allow the ship entry. Called the Mariam, the ship cannot travel directly to Gaza because Lebanon is technically at war with Israel, forcing the vessel to pass through a third country before heading for the seaside strip.
Organizers said they have contacted authorities in Greece and Turkey since Cyprus refused them entry. The ship will carry aid and women activists, according to organizers.
The IDF in the meantime is gearing up for the possible arrival of the Mariam, in addition to another ship from Lebanon, which could likely arrive sometime next week. The additional Lebanese ship, the Naji al-Ali, was also slated to leave from a Lebanese port with the intent of violating the blockade.
IDF sources said that the navy would intercept the ships as they attempt to enter Gaza and would operate under the assumption that hostile elements could be aboard.
In late May, navy commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara Turkish passenger ship and came under attack by a group of alleged mercenaries. The commandos killed nine passengers.
Last week, Ambassador to the UN Gabriella Shalev sent a letter to Secretary-General Ban Kimoon to tell him that two ships planning to depart for Gaza Sunday are “deeply troubling” to Israel and that the international community should use its influence to prevent the vessels from leaving Lebanon.
“Given the ongoing armed conflict between the Hamas terrorist organization and the State of Israel, compounded by the fact that these ships originate from Lebanon that remains in a state of hostility with Israel, Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the aforementioned naval blockade,” Friday’s letter read. “Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that these vessels carry weapons or individuals with violent intentions.”
Shalev, writing to draw Ban’s attention “to a developing matter of serious concern in the Middle East,” said in her letter that individuals connected to Hizbullah had announced that the Mariam would depart from Tripoli on Sunday.
“The stated intention of this vessel is to violate the existing naval blockade of Gaza, and some of its organizers have stated that Lebanese authorities offered their approval of this provocative act,” Shalev wrote.
Shalev highlighted that all humanitarian goods were now entering the Gaza Strip through “appropriate mechanisms that ensure their delivery as well as their civilian nature,” and that the organizers of these flotillas “seek to incite a confrontation and raise tension in our region.
“Such confrontational actions by the organizers of these vessels, as well as those that offer their consent, is deeply troubling and requires the attention of the international community,” the letter read.
At a meeting of the Security Council on July 21, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs B.
Lynn Pascoe said that aid flotillas “are not helpful to resolving the basic economic problems of Gaza and needlessly carry the potential for escalation.”
The point was reiterated by the Secretary-General’s Office on July 23, when it said that established routes for supplies to enter by land (vis Israel or Egypt) were the appropriate way for such supplies to be delivered.
Shalev’s letter called for Lebanon “to demonstrate responsibility and to prevent these boats from departing to the Gaza Strip.
“Such action will prevent any possible escalation,” the letter stated. “Israel further calls upon the international community to exercise its influence in order to prevent these boats from departing and to discourage their nationals from taking part in such action.”
The Secretary-General’s Office had no comment on Shalev’s letter. However, a representative did say that “the secretary-general’s position has consistently been that people wanting to bring aid into Gaza should use the accepted routes. He has called on all parties to avoid any provocative actions.”
AP contributed to this report.