Israel Navy bracing for another Gaza-bound protest ship: Report
JERUSALEM, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- The Navy has launched preparations to intercept a ship carrying pro-Palestinian activists seeking to breach the maritime blockade Israel imposes on the Gaza Strip, the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday, citing military sources.
European organizers of the "flotilla" on Tuesday issued a press release saying they had obtained clearance from authorities in La Spezia, Italy, to set sail and will reach the coastal enclave in two weeks.
Some 15 activists will be aboard the Swedish-flagged Estelle, which initially set sail in June and has since anchored at several European ports to gather support and publicity, according to the report.
Israeli-born Dror Feiler, a radical anti-Israeli activist, is expected to be among the passengers of the Estelle, the Jerusalem Post said.
"We're strictly a non-violent initiative. We're not financed by any state or rich donor, but funded by the sweat, love and tears of ordinary Swedes from all walks of life," the daily quoted Mattias Gardell, a spokesperson for the group, as saying.
"We hope that the Israeli military, if they could have a choice, they wouldn't do anything when we come towards Gaza. We're not threatening the Israeli military," he added.
A military spokesman on Wednesday neither confirmed nor denied that the Navy is preparing to intercept the vessel.
"Following directives from the political echelon, the Israel Defense Forces will continue to ensure that the maritime restrictions near the Gaza Strip, instituted to prevent weapons transfers, are maintained," Capt. Roni Kaplan told Xinhua.
He said that anyone wishing to transfer humanitarian supplies to Gaza can do so through the southern Israeli port of Ashdod.
"From there, the goods will be transferred through the (land) crossings used by the international community, following coordination with the Israeli authorities. Such crossings are used on a daily basis, with over 53,874 truckloads of material entering Gaza in 2011," Kaplan said.
Ilana Stein, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, on Tuesday downplayed the significance of the current attempt to break the naval blockade on Gaza, imposed since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007, saying that Israel will prevent the vessel from reaching its destination.
"This is the same old, same old. The organizers are just trying to make noise," Stein told the Jerusalem Post, noting that the number of participant was small, and that Israel was "not overly concerned."
In May 2010, nine Turkish nationals, some of which were affiliated with the IHH, a radical Islamist group, were killed in violent confrontations with Israeli naval commandos who were sent to intercept the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, one of a six-vessel flotilla that attempted to reach the Gaza shore. The incident sparked a firestorm of international condemnation and led to the severing of Israeli-Turkish diplomatic ties.
Since then, a host of groups have tried in vain to organize similar flotillas to Gaza or "fly-ins" to Israel, to protest the maritime blockade, which they say violates international law.