Israel appealed to the ambassadors of five countries to prevent a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid supplies from trying to reach the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, vowing to intercept the vessels otherwise.
Foreign Ministry Directory-General Yossi Gal met separately with envoys from Sweden, Turkey, Ireland, Greece and Cyprus and asked them to help divert the ships to Israel’s Ashdod port. He said Israel would assist in off-loading the cargo and send it by truck to Gaza, according to an e-mail from the ministry.
The action by the ships “is an absolute provocation,” Gal told the ambassadors, according to the statement. “Israel won’t allow the flotilla to reach Gaza.”
The eight ships, organized by an international group called the Free Gaza Movement, are carrying about 10,000 tons of cargo, including cement for rebuilding homes destroyed by war in Gaza, medical equipment and school supplies. They plan to reach Gaza over the next two days, said Greta Berlin, a movement spokeswoman in Cyprus.
Some of the ships are carrying television crews that plan to broadcast live any confrontation between Israeli forces and the activists, she said today in a phone interview.
“We will resist non-violently, but this is going to be a PR nightmare for Israel,” Berlin said.
Israel has restricted entry of people and goods into Gaza since the territory was taken over by the militant Hamas movement in 2007, allowing in only a limited range of supplies including food, clothing and medicine. Israeli Navy ships have intercepted three previous efforts by the Free Gaza Movement, formed in 2008 to deliver aid, to reach the territory by sea.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union. Israel fought a three-week war in Gaza starting in December 2008 that it said was meant to stop Hamas and other militant groups from firing rockets into its territory. It has been negotiating a prisoner swap with Hamas to exchange a captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, for about 1,000 jailed Palestinians.
Israeli bombing and ground operations during the war destroyed thousands of houses across Gaza and Israel’s restrictions on construction materials have prevented Palestinians from being able to rebuild.
Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, called Israel’s decision to stop the aid ships “Zionist piracy” and an example of “terrorism practiced against the Palestinians.”
Israel’s government is preparing a special detention area at its Ashdod port, 25 kilometers (16 miles) north of Gaza, capable of holding the 550 or more passengers and processing their deportation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
“They will be treated as trespassers,” Palmor said today in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. “If they try to enter Gaza by force, they will be towed to Ashdod.”
Palmor said that Israel will offload the humanitarian aid supplies from the boats and send them to Gaza. Any Israelis aboard may be arrested, he said.
While the shipment of construction material into Gaza is restricted, Palmor said it may be allowed in “if they can guarantee it won’t be commandeered by Hamas.”
The army said such materials are used by Hamas for building weapons, launchers and bunkers.