IDF Relieved by Turkish Group's Pullout From Gaza Flotilla but Still Goes Ahead With Preparations

Soldiers will bring photographers with them to document any resistance they face on board the ships.

Israel's navy is going ahead with preparations to stymie a planned flotilla slated to attempt to break the blockade on Gaza in two weeks, despite the fact that the Turkish group IHH has pulled out of the effort.

Israeli security experts believe that flotilla participants could violently oppose the navy's effort to stop the ships and plan to bring photographers with them to document any resistance they face.

Mavi Marmara

Last May a similar flotilla was raided by the navy and nine passengers were killed after soldiers said they were attacked. The IDF is hoping to quickly release images of the operation to the press to avoid a situation like last year, in which the only version of events available to world media for hours was that of the flotilla participants.

Navy head Vice Admiral Eliezer Marom spoke yesterday about the flotilla during remarks delivered at a ceremony marking the completion of the navy's submarine training course.

Marom mentioned "the flotillas of hatred which operate under the cover of providing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip," and said that the "navy has prevented, and will continue to prevent, the arrival of these flotillas."

Marom told the assembly that were the flotillas to be allowed to reach Gaza, Hamas would "equip itself with unmonitored loads of weapons, and threaten the state of Israel by means of terroristic rockets and missiles."

He explained that the flotilla's goal is to "cause a confrontation with IDF soldiers, and create a media provocation and thereby foster delegitimization of the state of Israel."

He called on international officials to "impose all their authority to prevent the departure of this needless, provocative flotilla."

The Islamist, Turkish IHH organization, which owns the Mavi Marmara ship and which organized the flotilla effort last year, announced recently that due to technical reasons, it would not participate in the current flotilla. IHH's announcement contradicted earlier reports which indicated that the organization would lead this effort. The Mavi Marmara is also expected to not be used in the second flotilla.

Top navy officers were relieved yesterday by the announcement that the Marmara, the largest vessel slated for the flotilla, would not sail.

"That saves a lot of work for us," said one navy officer. "The Marmara would have carried 500 passengers; its exclusion scales down the operation."

Despite the IHH pullout, a coalition of 23 pro-Palestinian organizations have announced their intention to take part in this new flotilla.

The IDF expects the ships to embark from several parts in the Mediterranean toward the end of this month; eight or nine ships should be in the flotilla. Last Wednesday, the navy conducted a large-scale drill at sea; its soldiers, including members of the Shayetet 13 commando unit, practiced boarding the flotilla ships, in the face of various forms of non-violent or violent resistance.

The IDF intends to bring a crew of several photographers on the operation to stop the ships to document what happens. As part of last week's drill, photographers were trained to relay photographs to shore in real time.

Aid sent via Sinai

Members of a European humanitarian aid mission carried supplies into the Gaza Strip via Egypt's Sinai Peninsula yesterday.

The aid, brought by the Miles of Smiles ship, was unloaded at al-Arish port, 45 kilometers from the Rafah border crossing, port director Gamal Abdul-Maqsoud told the German press agency DPA.

Trucks loaded with 12 ambulances, medicine and food for infants entered the enclave via the Rafah border crossing along with 62 international activists.

DPA contributed to this report