News / Middle East

    Tension Builds as Israel Warns Planned Gaza Aid Flotilla

    US activists chant slogans as they hold placards after a news conference about an international flotilla to blockaded Gaza, in Athens, June 27, 2011
    US activists chant slogans as they hold placards after a news conference about an international flotilla to blockaded Gaza, in Athens, June 27, 2011
    Robert Berger

    After a deadly confrontation a year ago, a new aid flotilla is planning a voyage to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli economic blockade. The trip could come this week and tensions are building.

    Israel’s Security Cabinet on Monday issued a stern warning to pro-Palestinian activists planning an aid flotilla to blockaded Gaza in the coming days.

    Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon told Israel Radio that the flotilla is a provocation and it will be intercepted by the Israeli navy.

    The Cabinet said Israel hopes to spare human lives in its enforcement and wants to avoid a repeat of a commando raid on a Gaza flotilla a year ago. The botched raid, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, 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.

    The flotilla is expected to set sail from several European ports. Cyprus, used as a launch pad for earlier voyages, has banned aid groups from sailing from its shores.

    At a news conference in Athens on Monday, flotilla organizers said they would not be intimidated by Israeli threats. They said 10 boats and two cargo vessels loaded with aid supplies soon would sail to Gaza and try to run the blockade, which they described as illegal and immoral.

    American activist Ann Wright is a former official of the U.S. State Department who will take part.

    "We say to the people of Gaza, we are coming!" she said.

    Hundreds of people will be on board the flotilla, including 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-American activist Huwaida Arraf, a flotilla participant speaking at the Athens press conference.

    "We say shame on you [cheering]. For you ignore our fundamental rights, a right of all people to be free," said Arraf.

    Israeli authorities on Monday rescinded a threat to bar journalists on the flotilla from entering the country for 10 years, after the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem questioned Israel's commitment to freedom of the press.

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