Israel Vows to Prevent Second Protest Boat From Reaching Gaza

Boat carrying 20 passengers, including an Arab MK and a Nobel laureate, to set sail for Gaza from Cyprus.

Israel has decided to prevent an additional group of left-wing activists from reaching Gaza by sea. About 20 passengers, most of them members of the Free Gaza organization, are expected to set sail for the Strip on Wednesday from Cyprus. MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) will most likely be aboard along with 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan.

Two months ago, members of the organization sailed from Cyprus to Gaza under the slogan "breaking the blockade." The Prime Minister's Office and Foreign Ministry viewed the move as a provocative propaganda stunt, intended to provoke a confrontation with the IDF. A day before the boat was to arrive at the shores of Gaza, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held a consultation and decided to allow the boat to reach land - and thereby block the activists' plans to create an international incident.

Nevertheless, in discussions held over the past few weeks between the PMO, Foreign Ministry and the IDF, it was decided that this time the boat would not be allowed to reach Gaza. "The first time we wanted to prevent a provocation, but if it is to become a routine, then we will have to make it clear we will not allow it," said a senior official in Jerusalem.

Egypt also prevented the sailing of a similar ship a few weeks ago from Alexandria to Gaza.

The Israel Navy will stop the activists' vessel once it reaches Israel's territorial waters, it was decided. If the ship turns around, then the IDF will not use any force. However, if the activists decide to sail on toward Gaza, the IDF will take control of the ship, by force if necessary, and tow it to Ashdod port. The activists will be arrested for illegal entry and will be deported to Cyprus or to their home countries.

The left-wing activists were scheduled to set sail yesterday, but they were delayed by bad weather. If the weather improves, they will leave today.

The ship's passengers are to including a number of journalists, including from international networks such as Al Jazeera.