Navy to repel Free Gaza Movement boats

Officials dismiss claim that group on humanitarian journey, say Hamas keen to exploit move.

gaza activists boat (photo credit: Free Gaza Movement)
gaza activists boat
(photo credit: Free Gaza Movement)
The navy has been ordered to turn back two boats carrying 44 pro-Palestinian foreign activists who are attempting to "break the siege of Gaza," The Jerusalem Post has learned. Officials said the navy had a number of options in dealing with the boats, which have set out from Crete, en route to Gaza, via a stop-over in Cyprus. The boats are due to approach the Strip in the second half of this week. Israeli officials said Sunday that the Mediterranean waters around Gaza fell under Israeli sovereignty due to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Gaza has also been declared a combat zone, giving the navy the legal right to patrol the sea around the Strip, the officials said. The officials dismissed the claim by the Free Gaza Movement organization, which organized the boats, that they were on a humanitarian journey. They said Hamas was keen to exploit the boats to undermine Israel's blockade of Gaza. The boats are expected to pass from international waters into waters within Gaza territory, unload equipment and pick up Palestinians living in the Strip, before setting sail again. A confrontation was not expected as the activists have stated they were not seeking a standoff, the Israeli officials said. Speaking from Cyprus last week, Free Gaza spokeswoman Gretta Berlin said the activists "do not intend to turn around" if confronted by the navy. "Why should we turn around? Israel doesn't own that property. We have been invited by the people of Gaza," she said. "We'll stand in line, link arms, and tell them they're not wanted," Berlin added. Israeli officials did note that Gazan fishing boats had access to the waters. The boat journey was largely a publicity stunt, the Israeli officials said, adding that its organizers were hungry for international and Israeli media attention. So far, the Israeli media had shown the most interest in the boats, the officials added. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Free Gaza Movement, Ramzi Kysia, has claimed that a member of the movement, Lauren Booth, received a threatening phone call at her home in France on Thursday. "An anonymous man called my home in France as my daughters played hide and seek in the garden. This stranger spoke to my husband, warning him that 'your wife is in great danger. These ships will be blown up.' My husband asked how it was this person had obtained our private home number. No response was forthcoming, but the illicit threats carried on," Booth said in a message posted on the group's Web site.