Organizers of Jewish activist boat sailing to Gaza expect Israel to intercept vessel

Monday, September 27, 2010

Activists expect Israel to stop Gaza-bound boat

JERUSALEM — A small boat carrying Jewish activists is on course to arrive in the blockaded Gaza Strip late Tuesday morning, though they consider it likely the Israeli navy will stop them, an activist on board told The Associated Press Monday.

“We know that they stopped all the other boats, so there is probably a good chance that they will try” to stop this one, activist Yonatan Shapira said by phone from the 33-foot (10-meter) catamaran Irene.

In May, Israeli commandos stopped a Turkish-led flotilla of six Gaza-bound ships, killing nine pro-Palestinian activists. Both sides said they were acting in self defense in the bloody confrontation.

That clash set off an uproar and turned a spotlight on Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza, which targets the territory’s Hamas rulers. As a result, Israel significantly eased the restrictions, allowing many consumer products in but still banning most exports and maintaining its sea blockade, saying it is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the radical Hamas regime.

The Irene set sail from Cyprus on Sunday, carrying nine Jewish activists from Israel and other countries. They said they are trying to draw attention to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and will not resist if they are stopped.

Organizers have said they expect the Israeli navy to overtake the boat as it gets closer to Gaza, possibly as early at Monday evening.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David called the activists’ claim to be bringing aid to Gaza “ridiculous” and labeled the voyage “a politically motivated provocation.”

The activists behind the convoy involved in May’s deadly raid say they will send a new flotilla of at least eight ships to try to break the blockade by the end of this year. The Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella group of pro-Palestinian activists, said no date has been set.

Spokesman Vangelis Pissias said the group of European activists is expected to include some who were on board the ship boarded by Israeli forces in May.

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