Navy braces for Lebanese flotilla

A ship with women, journalists ready to sail from Tripoli.

Amalthea 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Amalthea 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Israel Navy went on high alert Thursday amid forecasts that a flotilla of two vessels from Lebanon was preparing to depart for the Gaza Strip in an effort to break the blockade by the end of the week.
Defense officials said that the navy had deployed ships at sea to stop the Lebanese vessels and that commandos from the navy’s Flotilla 13 – known as the Shayetet – were put on standby in case they would be needed to board the ships to prevent them from sailing into the Gaza Strip. The organizer of the ships is Syrian national Yasser Kashlak.
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Two ships are expected to depart Tripoli on either Friday or Saturday to try and break the blockade. One of the ships is carrying women and the other is carrying journalists.
“They want to purposely create a provocation,” one defense official said. “These are also relatively fast ships which means that once they leave, they will be near Gaza fairly quickly.”
The heightened alert in Israel over the possible arrival of the vessels, according to diplomatic officials, follows comments Kashlak has made in the Lebanese press over the last few days to the effect that everything is in place for the flotilla to set sail.
Diplomatic officials, however, pointed to certain legal problems in Lebanon that have not yet been overcome, such as the Lebanese law prohibiting ships to set sail from Lebanese ports for “occupied territory,” which in this case also means Gaza.
As such, the officials said, the ships would have to set sail for another port and from there to Gaza. Last month, Cyprus banned vessels heading to Gaza from docking in its port and as a result, the ships will need to search for an alternative port, reportedly in Turkish Cyprus.
Not only is the navy on heightened alert, the officials said, but diplomatic messages have been passed through third countries with influence on Lebanon not to allow the flotilla to proceed. Israel has also made clear that it will not let the vessels break the blockade.