New flotilla planned to set sail for Gaza Strip

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Banner of flotilla stopped in May
Image: Free Gaza movement.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) throughout Europe and the United States are currently assembling a flotilla of up to 20 ships, which will set sail for the Gaza strip in the coming months in an attempt break the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory. Israeli-Swedish activist Dror Feiler said that the goal of the new flotilla is to double the size of the previous one, and for it to include more than a thousand people. "The Israeli Army can stop 12 to 50 ships if it wants," Feiler said. "[Nonetheless] there are so many ships since so many people want to get together to stop the siege, which is a collective punishment on the people of Gaza and is unacceptable."

The Israel Defense Force is monitoring the actions of the planned flotilla, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. The Israeli army is calling this new fleet of ships "the mother of all flotillas." A wide range of scenarios is being prepared for which include the possibility that due to the larger number of ships reported to be part of the flotilla, the Israeli navy may need to intercept it before the ships get close to Israel's shoreline. Officials say that Israel will warn ship operators that their crew may be detained and the vessel held until impound fees are paid, claiming the backing of international maritime treaties.

"The legal approach proved effective as a deterrent, and we're prepared to see it through as a punishment. If we are to pay a price for defending the blockade, the other side will pay a price for challenging it," a senior Israeli government official. The official declined to be named.

A European campaigner against the blockade, Anwar Ghabi, told Arabic news agency Quds Press that the new flotilla will be backed by hundreds of NGOs, including several human rights groups.

The first flotilla to challenge the blockade was stopped by Israeli naval commandos in May this year. Nine activists were killed, and several dozen activists and seven Israeli commandos were wounded after Israeli troops clashed with activists. Harsh international and domestic criticism followed. Subsequent aid ships were seized or diverted to Egypt.

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