IDF Completes Preparations to Detain Flotilla Protesters, Examine Aid to Be Delivered to Gaza

The Israel Defense Forces has completed preparations to take over the aid ships that aim to breach the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

A tent compound has been set up at Ashdod Port to receive the activists before they are expelled from Israel.

The ships' cargo will be examined and the humanitarian aid will be delivered to Gaza through ground crossings.

Military sources said yesterday that the activists will try to approach the Gaza coast by tomorrow morning, in full light. This would make it easier to document the navy's efforts to board the ships and brand Israel as aggressive.

The sources say it will be impossible to prevent "rough scenes" during the takeover, particularly with the ship carrying activists of IHH, a Turkish group.

The IDF has thus decided that the navy ships will have on board foreign reporters "so that they will know the methods that we use and recognize that we have no intention of harming the participants in the flotilla," a defense source said.

The ships in the flotilla will be asked via radio and loudspeaker not to approach 20 nautical miles from the Gaza Strip.

If the ships do not turn back, navy commandos will try to board them, using as little violence as possible, the IDF says.

The chief of the navy, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Marom, has ordered the commanders of the force to stress the safety of their sailors.

They would also ensure that the ships are not carrying terrorists or weapons.

After the takeover, the ships would be taken to Ashdod Port, and the activists would be arrested.

Defense concernedabout rioting

Defense sources expressed concerns about rioting in the holding area, so this space will be off limits to the media.

There are also worries that the activists, to make it difficult to expel them, will destroy their passports and refuse to identify themselves.

The area where the activists will be received at Ashdod Port was opened to the media yesterday. Those requiring medical attention or other care before being expelled will be removed from the holding area.

In addition to their crews and commandos, the navy ships will carry legal experts, Foreign Ministry officials and spokespeople.

A joint headquarters of ministries and defense officials was set up more than a month ago to deal with the flotilla.

It has recommended that many local and foreign journalists be on board the navy ships.

According to the plan completed yesterday, after the takeover of the ships and entry to Ashdod Port, the passengers will be placed in the holding area, which already has computers and 10 metal detectors to process the activists before expelling them.

Those signing a form agreeing to be expelled will be taken immediately by bus to Ben-Gurion International Airport. They will be placed on the first flight to their home country.

However, the army believes that many will refuse to sign the form and some may even try to use violence at the holding camp.

They will be handled by riot police and will be taken to prisons. They, too, will be expelled, but after a longer legal process. Until they are expelled they will be held in prison in Be'er Sheva.

The air force is also expected to close off the air space above the holding area and the flotilla.