Monday, May 31, 2010

IDF Stops "Free Gaza" Flotilla on High Seas

A six vessel flotilla of humanitarian aid has been boarded and stopped from proceeding to the Palestinian port of Gaza City. The flotilla, said to be bringing relief supplies from Turkey, was boarded around 4:30am Monday morning, May 31, by Israeli commando soldiers who dropped down from helicopters and boarded with commando rubber dingys. In the mayhem that followed at least one soldier's automatic weapon was wrested from him by an activist who opened fire against the boarding commandos, who in turn returned fire, killing several activists and wounding many others. It now appears that those on board the vessels were expecting to engage Israeli military personnel as they were wearing life vests and wielding various weapons such as knives and clubs.

According to an Israeli military spokesmen, orders had been given to do what was necessary to maintain order as well as protect the lives of the soldiers involved in the operation. At least 10 activists were killed during the confrontation.

The activists, whose Free Gaze organization had set sail from Turkey a few days previously, had been monitored constantly by Israel and advance warnings had been given to the vessels not to try to "run" the blockade that the IDF has had on Gaza; by land as well as by air and sea. An offer had even been made to allow the aid flotilla unload its cargo at Ashdod Port, where the aid supplies would be permitted to proceed on to Gaza in trucks. The activists had a number of media representatives on board from Turkish TV and newspapers, as well as foreign media people from news bureaus such as Al Jazeera.

After gaining control of the vessels and their occupants, orders were given to tow the vessels to Ashdod, where the activists would be processed and treated for any wounds they sustained during the boarding operation. The more seriously wounded were evacuated by helicopter for treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Prior to the attack, Hamas political leaders in Gaza City were preparing a grand welcome for the Free Gaza flotilla and their occupants, hoping to gain more international support for their cause. Upon hearing news of the commando action, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haninyeh gave a call for all Palestinians to refuse to engage in peace talks with Israel. Various governments in Europe and elsewhere also strongly condemned the action.

For its part, Israeli government leaders, including Prime Minister Natanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated that "Israel will never give up the power to defend itself. In response to anti-Israel chants made by some of the 700 people who were on board the captured vessels, Asst. Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said: "Israel strongly condemns such statements as we publicized in various Medias today. The fact that such statements were made indicates the hatred these people have for the Jewish State."

The activists, including Nobel Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, will be deported from Israel after processing.

Israel currently allows around 15,000 tons of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid into Gaza on a weekly basis. Much of the aid on the vessels included electric wheel chairs, pre-fabricated houses and water purification equipment.

Once unloaded at Ashdod, the confiscated aid will be examined, and if found suitable will be delivered into the Gaza Strip via land crossings such as the Erez crossing, through which weekly humanitarian aid is usually channeled. This will be permitted despite the violence that has occurred, which the IDF claims was provoked by the aid group officials.

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