Israel on Thursday said a flotilla of activist aid boats bound for Gaza was an "outright provocation," saying however that the organizers of the aid convoy were invited to unload their cargo at the Israeli port of Ashdod, where it would be transferred to Gaza following an inspection.
The "Freedom Flotilla" consists of nine ships loaded with 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid and building materials, all headed toward Gaza in defiance of a three-year Israeli closure on the territory, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with the foreign ministers from several countries on Thursday, while the Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Yossi Gal, individually summoned the representatives of the countries participating in the aid convoy. The two made it clear that there is no shortage in humanitarian aid to Gaza, as food, fuel and supplies are regularly transferred into Gaza by international organizations.
The defense minister told the foreign ministers that "Hamas, which rules Gaza, is a terror organization supported by Iran. It smuggles weapons and rockets with the sole purpose of harming Israelis, as it has done many times in the past."
The minister explained that Hamas has been holding Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive for four years, in complete isolation and in prevention of Red Cross intervention. "For these reasons Israel must oversee the waters in the area," Barak said.
The Israel Defense Forces announced that troops, especially the navy, have completed the preparations for the flotilla, which will likely arrive in the region over the weekend. The preparations included a compound at the Ashdod port consisting of air conditioned tents equipped with computerized stations, metal detectors, and seating for the activists manning the ships. The IDF is preparing for the arrival of some 800 peace activists. The IDF said that they were ready to carry out the government's decision to prevent the ships from reaching the Gaza shore.
Sources within the defense establishment said Thursday that the activists will be given the option of signing documents allowing Israeli authorities to deport them from the country. Israeli officials will escort them to buses that will take them to Ben-Gurion International Airport where they will be placed on planes to take them back to their countries of origin. However, the defense establishment believes that the operation will not go smoothly and that most of the ships' passengers will try to create provocations and confrontations. In case of violence, the Israel Prisons Service will jail the activists in Be'er Sheva and initiate the deportation process from there.
The IDF said Thursday that much thought was put into the preparations for the convoy's arrival. The plans include trained navy forces boarding the ships, with the aid of dogs, to search for weapons and explosives as well as wanted terrorists. The IDF said that they did not know whether the ships carried these items or people, but that they were preparing for any possible scenario to prevent potential catastrophes.
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