IDF Vows to Block 'Freedom Flotilla' Aid Convoy to Gaza

Navy to enforce 20-mile exclusion zone but will offer to deliver activists' cargo to Hamas-ruled territory.

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Israel will attempt to block the 'Freedom Flotilla' of pro-Palestinian demonstrators heading toward Gaza with humanitarian supplies, the forum of seven senior ministers decided on Wednesday. Humanitarian cargo, however, would be unloaded and inspected at Ashdod and sent to Gaza via the United Nations.

Hamas boats prepare for the arrival of the 'Freedom Flotilla' in Gaza, May 26, 2010Credit: Reuters

The flotilla's organizers seek to disrupt Israel's efforts to limit supplies into the Hamas-controlled territory.

After hearing from defense officials, the ministers decided not to allow the ships to dock in Gaza, but to let the cargo through.

The ministers decided that the ships would be directed to Ashdod by force if necessary. The activists would be arrested and expelled from the country. At the meeting, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser was a dissenting voice - he suggested that the ships be allowed to dock in the Strip.

The flotilla is expected to approach Gaza by the weekend. A senior source in Jerusalem said the forum of seven convened to discuss the potential negative media fallout abroad if the navy intercepts the ships. The ministers met before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left on a trip to Europe and North America.

The ministers decided that foreign journalists would be allowed to be present on Israel Navy ships during the operation in a bid to produce more favorable coverage abroad.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak surprised his colleagues at the meeting when he described a suggestion by journalist Eitan Haber, who reportedly proposed that the demonstrators be greeted at Ashdod by women soldiers dressed in white. They would give the activists letters destined for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, after which their ships would be allowed to sail on to Gaza.

Another participant suggested that a collection of rockets that had been fired at the Sderot area from Gaza be put on display at Ashdod Port for the activists and foreign media to see.

The Israel Defense Forces expects that the ships will refuse to retreat and there will be a confrontation at sea with the navy. The flotilla is thought to be carrying nearly 800 passengers, including 350 Turkish nationals.

Most of the others are from European countries and the Muslim world. Among the passengers are 35 parliamentarians and a number of Israeli Arabs, including the head of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, Mohammed Zeidan; the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Raed Salah; and Knesset member Hanin Zuabi (Balad ).

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