News / Middle East

Israel Warns Activists on Gaza Flotilla

An activist holds a placard during a news conference regarding preparations of a flotilla, which is due to set sail to Gaza from Greece, in Athens, June 27, 2011
An activist holds a placard during a news conference regarding preparations of a flotilla, which is due to set sail to Gaza from Greece, in Athens, June 27, 2011
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Israel is warning activists as an international aid flotilla is poised to sail for the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, defying Israel's sea blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says participants in an aid flotilla hoping to break Israel's naval blockade on Gaza include what he called a "hard core of terror activists."

Lieberman told Israel Radio that the activists are planning "to create a provocation and are looking for confrontation and blood."

A violent scenario could unfold if Israel carries out its threat to intercept the flotilla, which could set sail this week from European ports. The Israeli military says it has information that some activists plan to attack naval commandos with acid and lethal chemicals if they board the ships.

Akram Bader, a Palestinian spokesman for the flotilla, says that is nonsense.

“The activists on board have repeated that they’re non-violent unarmed activists," said Bader.  "At all the port authorities the boats will be inspected. They will be carrying no weapons; there are no chemicals whatsoever on board any of the ships.”

Israel says it hopes to avoid a repeat of a botched commando raid on a Gaza flotilla a year ago, which left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead and sparked international outrage.

Israel says the continuing blockade is necessary to keep weapons from reaching the Palestinian militant group Hamas that rules Gaza. It says the ships can dock in Israeli or Egyptian ports and their cargo can be transferred to Gaza legally over land.

But flotilla organizers say the sea blockade of humanitarian aid, basic staples and medicine is illegal and immoral.

It is still not clear when the flotilla, with 10 boats and hundreds of people escorting two cargo vessels, will set sail for Gaza. Passengers in the flotilla are expected to include journalists, politicians, writers and religious figures.

The United States and United Nations have urged flotilla organizers to use established channels to deliver aid to Gaza, drawing an angry response from Palestinian officials and flotilla organizers.

The flotilla has been delayed by administrative problems at Greek ports that activists blame on Israeli diplomatic pressure. In the latest delay, Scandinavian activists say their boat was sabotaged by professional divers and is undergoing repairs.

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