Israel urges world: Stop Lebanese ships

Barak calls planned flotilla an "unnecessary provocation."

311_Mavi Marmara side (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_Mavi Marmara side
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel urged Lebanon and the international community on Friday to stop two ships from sailing to the Gaza Strip from Lebanon.
This flotilla was an attempt to “incite a confrontation and raise tensions in our region,” Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev said in letters to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.
Shalev’s attempt to get the international community to stop the two vessels, the Junia and the Julia, came the same day that Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement saying the planned Lebanese flotilla was an “unnecessary provocation,” and that Israel held the Lebanese government responsible for preventing the ships from sailing to break the blockade of Gaza.
The Israel Navy had been on high alert on Friday amid predictions that the ships were preparing to depart for the Gaza Strip.
Barak said that if the cargo the ships were carrying was of a humanitarian nature it would be allowed into Gaza via Ashdod Port and land crossings into Gaza controlled by Israel.
“If the ships refuse to accompany the navy to Ashdod, we will have no choice but to stop it at sea,” he said.
Defense officials said that the navy had deployed ships at sea to stop the Lebanese vessels and that teams of commandos from the navy’s Flotilla 13 – known as the Shayetet – were on standby in case they were needed to board the ships and prevent them from sailing to the Strip.
The organizer behind the ships is Yasser Kashlak, a Syrian of Palestinian origin. Two ships were expected to depart Tripoli to try and break the blockade. One of the vessels is carrying women and the other is carrying journalists.
Shalev, in her letter, wrote that “Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the... naval blockade.”
She called on foreign governments to deter their nationals from taking part in these types of exercises.
On Friday, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky, relating to the planned Lebanese flotilla, said those who wish to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza should do so by land and not try to break Israel’s sea blockade.
Hamas reacted furiously to these comments, calling them – according to an Al-Jazeera report – tantamount to “collaboration with the Israeli occupier.”
“The UN call to international organizations to use the overland road to Gaza instead of the sea is unacceptable and illegal,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri said.
Abu Zahri called on groups interested in delivering aid to Gaza to continue to try to do so by sea until the blockade of the territory is completely broken.
Israel loosened its blockade after its May 31 raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara cargo ship, which was part of a six-ship flotilla, resulted in a brawl that killed nine Turkish men, including one Turkish-American, and wounded seven Israeli troops. Commando raids on the other five ships ended without incident.
On Friday, Israel announced that it would return the Mavi Marmara and three other Turkish ships that took part in the flotilla, in a move that the Istanbul-based newspaper Hürriyet quoted Turkish diplomatic sources as saying were “apparently reconciliatory gestures.”
Turkish-Israeli ties nose-dived following the incident, with the Turks recalling their ambassador and saying they would only resume normal diplomatic relations after Israel apologized, paid compensation to the families of the dead and wounded, and agreed to an international inquiry commission.
Israel has rejected these demands.
Jerusalem’s return of the vessels, a decision taken by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, a forum known as the septet, does not include – according to diplomatic sources – a demand that the Turks make a commitment that these ships won’t be used in future attempts to break the blockade.
The Turkish Anatolia news agency quoted Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as saying, during a visit to Vietnam, “We expect the process of the ships’ return to be completed after technical preparations are finished within several days.
Hürriyet reported that the decision to release the ships came a day after Israel lifted an advisory warning its citizens against travel to Turkey, a move that was also “perceived as a goodwill message.”
Israeli sources, however, said that the decision to lift the travel advisory was purely a “professional” decision made by the National Security Council’s counter-terrorism bureau.
Meanwhile, three Spanish aid workers said on Friday they had filed criminal charges against Netanyahu, Barak, the other five members of the septet and navy commander Adm. Eli Marom.
Laura Arau, David Segarra and Manuel Tapial presented for consideration by Judge Pablo Ruz of the National Court an 86-page charge alleging that crimes against humanity were committed in ordering and overseeing the raid.
A court spokesman said Ruz would study whether the case had legal merit and issue a decision in a few days.
Enrique Santiago, a lawyer involved in preparing the charges, said there was still a possibility the charges could be extended to include other Israeli officials involved in what he called a “criminal plan and in its execution.”
Ruz replaced crusading Judge Baltasar Garzon, who became world-famous for cross-border justice cases. Garzon was suspended in May for allegedly overstepping his jurisdiction.
Jerusalem Post staff and news agencies contributed to this report.