Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said efforts to stop a flotilla intending to break his country’s naval embargo of the Gaza Strip had taken a positive turn after Greece prevented most of the ships from sailing.
“We’re seeing developments at this time regarding the flotilla that seem very positive, with the governments of Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and others working to restrain it,” Barak said before the Cabinet met in Jerusalem today, in comments broadcast on Army Radio. “As a result, there is a chance to minimize the impact of this flotilla, although we still have to prepare for the possibility that these boats will arrive.”
Greek authorities have forbidden seven vessels from sailing, saying they lack proper safety equipment, and yesterday arrested the crew of one ship after it left the port of Piraeus without permission. The remaining two boats in the flotilla have already sailed from other European locations.
Israel said it won’t allow the vessels to reach the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. A previous flotilla’s attempt to arrive in Gaza by sea ended in violence on May 31 last year when Israeli naval commandos dropped from helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara, part of the six-boat convoy, and opened fire after the ship refused to stop. Nine Turks were killed.
Israel says people on board shot first and attacked with iron bars, an allegation the passengers denied.
“It is very obvious to us that Israel has outsourced the occupation of Gaza to the Greek authorities, who have bowed to political and economic pressure to prevent the flotilla from leaving,” said Akram Bader, a Jerusalem-based spokesman for the activists.
The organizers have said Israel’s blockade is illegal under international law and causing unnecessary hardship for Gaza’s Palestinian population.
Israel says sufficient goods reach Gaza through its border crossings and that it needs the naval blockade to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas, the Islamic movement that is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.