Pro-Palestinian activists demonstrating ahead of expected arrival of a Freedom flotilla in Gaza.
Pro-Palestinian activists demonstrating ahead of expected arrival of a Freedom flotilla in Gaza. Photo by AP
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Israel on Wednesday added to its terror watch list theTurkish pro-Palestinian group that sent an aid flotilla to Gaza last month, and issued stern warnings to Lebanese and Iranian organizers of similar aid ships, Israeli media reported.

The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid (IHH) told members of the European Parliament it had assembled six ships for the next flotilla and put out an appeal for others to join its bid to break the Israeli blockade after its last convoy was the target of the Israeli raid in May.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal briefed foreign diplomats on Wednesday on Israel's preparations for this arrival of the Lebanese flotilla.

Gal emphasized that Israel sees the flotilla as hostile, due to its origin in an enemy state as well as the connection between the flotilla's organizers and Hezbollah.

The intelligence picture regarding this new flotilla is still not clear, particularly on the timing of its departure for Gaza. In recent days, the Foreign Ministry has asked several countries to pass along messages to Lebanon, asking for the flotilla to be stopped.

Among others, Israel has told the United States, France and the United Nations to send the message to Lebanon that Israel views the flotilla as a "provocation intended to escalate the violence." Through intermediaries, Israel has received a response from Lebanon, according to which the Lebanese government cannot stop the flotilla because it is a private initiative.

The Foreign Ministry has also directed Israel's representatives overseas to begin diplomatic and public relations activities in regards to the Lebanese flotilla and to emphasize that Israel would not allow it to arrive in Gaza.

In Wednesday's briefing to foreign diplomats in Israel, Gal stressed that because the flotilla is setting off from an enemy state and is supported by Hezbollah, Israel cannot dismiss the possibility that the boats will carry weaponry and terrorist operatives.

"The flotilla will not be allowed in," Gal said. "We are asking you to recommend to your citizens not to participate in this flotilla."

Gal also said that because Lebanon is an enemy state, Israel would not be required to release the operatives on board if the boats are stopped and towed to the port of Ashdod.

"They could be incarcerated according to Israeli law," Gal said.

Israel also issued a stern warning to Iranian and Lebanese organizers who plan to send three more aid ships to Gaza later this week.

Attempts by the Iranians and Lebanese to break Israel's blockade of Gaza would be seen not just as a provocation and a breach of law, but as a "hostile" act because the ships and their cargo are from enemy states, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

"They are under a different status," he said, referring to the earlier aid flotilla forcefully intercepted on May 31, which had carried aid and activists mainly from European states including Turkey, Greece and Ireland.

"They are coming from an enemy state and it means that of course the treatment is different, because legally they are different," Palmor said of the Iranian and Lebanese ships.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had conveyed a similar message in a meeting with Ashton, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Palmor said Israel's Foreign Ministry had no conclusive information as to when the ships would arrive and therefore said "it's much too early to go into practical terms" as to how Israel planned to deal with the vessels.

The Turkish flotilla is due to sail in the second half of July, IHH said. The group invited the international media to inspect all goods on board before the convoy sails to "demonstrate their commitment to total transparency."

Israel says the IHH has links to Muslim militants, which the group denies.

Richard Howitt, a British member of the European Parliament who organized IHH's press conference at the parliament in Strasbourg, said the European Union had an obligation to ensure respect for humanitarian law and access for the next flotilla.

"If this terrible tragedy tips the balance so that the international community finally insists on full and unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza, then some good can still come out of it," he said, referring to the deaths in the last convoy.

Israel has said it is considering softening its blockade in the wake of international condemnation of the flotilla assault. The EU said on Monday it hoped the easing would begin "in the next days."