Israel Braces for New Blockade-Busting Flotilla

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israel is bracing for a possible confrontation with ships preparing to break its naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Between seven to 10 ships from France, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Canada have already set sail with 200 to 500 passengers.

The U.S. ship named after President Obama's biography "The Audacity of Hope" (passengers include the author Alice Walker and Hedy Epstein, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor) and a Canadian ship, Tahrir, have been detained but hope to set sail later this week.

The ships set sail from various locations and are set to meet at a point of rendezvous in the waters of the Mediterranean.

Israel has issued stringent warnings to the ships participating in the flotilla and to the activists aboard the ships, which will not be allowed to dock at Gaza.

The Israeli navy plans to stop the flotilla far from Gaza, after issuing a warning that the territory is under a sea blockade. 

"If the ships continue sailing after being warned, then we will have the right to stop them even if they did not yet enter Gaza's territorial waters," an Israeli defense official explained to The Jerusalem Post.

According to a report on Israel Radio, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ordered the defense establishment not to allow any ship to reach Gaza's shores.

Israel is concerned that the ships could contain weapons and argues that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Israel and Egypt reached an agreement on Monday that the cargo would be allowed to be unloaded at the Egyptian port of El-Arish and at the Israeli Ashdod port, from where they will be transferred on land to Gaza after being checked.

Passengers on some of the ships are said to be undergoing training in non-violent resistance techniques and instruction in what to expect if Israeli soldiers board their ship.

A year ago, nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed when Israeli troops boarded the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara.

The activists attacked the soldiers with knives, metal bars, stun grenades and chains. This time Israel is preparing itself for every possibility.

On Sunday Israel warned journalists not to travel with the flotilla. The government press office drew criticism when it issued a warning to the international press that journalists who participate in the flotilla would be breaking Israeli law and could be banned from Israel for up to 10 years.

The Foreign Press Association said the warning raised "serious questions about Israel's commitment to freedom of the press" and urged the government to reverse its decision.

But Oren Helman, director of the Government Press Office, urged journalists not to participate.

"This flotilla is a dangerous provocation that is being organized by Western and Islamic extremist elements to aid Hamas, which the world defines as an extremist Islamic terrorist organization," Helman said in a letter to journalists.

"Those participating in the flotilla have declared that it is their intention to "break" the naval blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for security reasons, given Hamas's efforts to smuggle weaponry and terrorists into the Gaza Strip," he said.

"The flotilla intends to knowingly violate the blockade that has been declared legally and is in accordance with all treaties and international law. The government of Israel has instructed the IDF not to allow the flotilla to reach its goal," Helman said.

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Padmakshi Parkhe

Padmakshi Parkhe

CBN News Guest Writer

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