Organizers of an eight—ship flotilla said on Friday they continued to head for Gaza despite Israel’s warnings to intercept them as soon as they enter Israeli—controlled waters off the coast.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry held meetings with ambassadors of European countries from where the ships are sailing, urging them not to cooperate and calling the campaign — aimed at drawing attention to the stringent Israeli economic embargo of Gaza — a “blatant provocation.” The organizers had ignored Israeli offers for the flotilla to dock in its southern port of Ashdod, just north of Gaza, and to transport the 10,000 tons of aid to the coastal enclave from there, it said.
Foreign Ministry officials said Cyprus authorities notified them that Nicosia would not allow the pro—Palestinian activists to dock on the island.
But Audrey Bomse, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza movement, one of the organizers, told the German Press—Agency dpa the flotilla never planned to dock in Cyprus because of the heavy pressure by Israel on the Cypriot government.
The ships that had sailed from various ports over the past week were in the process of hooking up in international waters and scheduled to arrive off the coasts of Gaza on Saturday afternoon, she said. The ships were now sailing not far from Cyprus.
Israel has said it will overtake the ships as soon as they enter a 20—mile Israeli—controlled zone off Gaza. They will then be towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the foreign nationals will be handed over to Immigration Police for deportation abroad, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
The flotilla with some 700 passengers is the largest yet attempt to break the Israeli—imposed embargo on the Gaza Strip.
Free Gaza has since August 2008 made five boat journeys to Gaza, five of them “successful” in breaking the siege, as Israel refrained from intercepting them and allowed them to dock in Gaza. But they had only up to two boats and a few dozen participants in each case.
Organizers plan to use non—violent methods to resist the Israel Navy, including chaining themselves to their boats.