Hamas: Flotilla shows whole world opposes Gaza siege
Delayed Freedom Flotilla expected to set sail towards Gaza on Sunday evening; IDF prepares to intercept convoy as it enters a 20-mile Israeli-controlled zone off Gaza.
The Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday that if Israel behaved like pirates and attacked the international Freedom Flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of aid meant for Gaza, then the Palestinians will have won.
"The flotilla's message is clear and it will reach the entire world," Haniyeh said Saturday morning during a press conference held at the Gaza port where the ships were expected to dock.
"The meaning of the flotilla is that the entire world opposes the siege on the Gaza Strip, and if Israel behaves like pirates and sea-terrorists – we will win," he added.
The 8-ship Freedom Flotilla protesting Israel's blockade on Gaza, is expected to set sail from the international waters off the shores of Cyprus on Sunday evening and arrive at the Gaza Strip on Monday morning.
Flotilla organizers arranged the timing so that a potential encounter with the Israeli Navy would occur during the daytime hours, and not during the darkness of night.
Israel has said it will overtake the ships as soon as they enter a 20-mile Israeli-controlled zone off Gaza. They will then be towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the foreign nationals will be handed over to Immigration Police for deportation abroad, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
The Israel Navy started preparing for the arrival of the Gaza aid flotilla by sending ships to counter the convoy in the Israeli-controlled waters. Despite the convoy's delay, the Israel Defense Forces continued to prepare for its arrival as planned.
Earlier on Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the Freedom Flotilla violent propaganda against Israel's sovereignty, and added that Israel would not allow such a threat to continue.
"The aid convoy is violent propaganda against Israel, and Israel will not allow its sovereignty to be threatened in any way, in any place - land, air or sea," Lieberman said during a foreign ministry briefing on the aid convoy's progress towards the shores of Gaza.
"There is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip," Liebeman added. "Despite Hamas' war crimes against Israeli citizens and the thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns, Israel continues to respond in the most humane way possible."
Lieberman stressed that Israel permitted thousands of tons of products to enter the Gaza Strip on a daily basis.
Organizers of an eight-ship flotilla said Friday they continued to head for Gaza despite Israel's warnings to intercept them as soon as they enter Israeli-controlled waters off the coast.
Israel's Foreign Ministry held meetings with ambassadors of European countries from where the ships are sailing, urging them not to cooperate and calling the campaign - aimed at drawing attention to the stringent Israeli economic embargo of Gaza - a "blatant provocation."
The organizers had ignored Israeli offers for the flotilla to dock in its southern port of Ashdod, just north of Gaza, and to transport the 10,000 tons of aid to the coastal enclave from there, it said.
Foreign Ministry officials said Cyprus authorities notified them that Nicosia would not allow the pro-Palestinian activists to dock on the island.
But Audrey Bomse, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza movement, one of the organizers, told the German Press-Agency DPA the flotilla never planned to dock in Cyprus because of the heavy pressure by Israel on the Cypriot government.
The ships that had sailed from various ports over the past week were in the process of hooking up in international waters and scheduled to arrive off the coasts of Gaza on Saturday afternoon, she said.
The IDF on Thursday completed its preparations for countering the international aid flotilla. Israel announced that it will prevent the ships from reaching their destination, and warned that it will not hesitate to make use of limited force if it becomes necessary.
Israel considers the effort by international left-wing elements and Islamic organizations as intentional provocation under the guise of humanitarian aid.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Ministry Director General Yossi Gal held a round of explanatory calls with foreign ministers from countries whose citizens are participating in the flotilla, and also with foreign diplomats on Thursday. The Israeli message has been that the activists are welcome to bring the humanitarian aid to the port of Ashdod, where it will be examined and if found suitable will be permitted to enter the Gaza Strip through the land crossings. If the activists try to break the siege, they will be arrested.
Barak and Gal insisted that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
IDF sources say that a clash with the activists on the ships will produce bad press from Israel's point of view - but they believe that this is inevitable in any eventuality.
The instruction from the political leadership to the Israel Navy is to stop the flotilla from entering the Gaza Strip. From the point of view of the navy, a successful mission would be if they manage to perform their duty in a controlled manner, with minimal use of force.
The flotilla with some 700 passengers is the largest yet attempt to break the Israeli-imposed embargo on the Gaza Strip.