Flotilla participant

Following Navy warning, Gaza flotilla takes 'alternate route'

(Video) Ships bound for Gaza with humanitarian aid, pro-Palestinian activists warned by Israel naval craft not to approach Strip. 'We didn't expect them now,' activist says. Al Jazeera reports organizers decide to take alternate route to avoid nighttime confrontation. Arab MK aboard vessel: They are trying to break us

VIDEO - Three Israeli naval craft left a Haifa naval base just after 9 pm and approached the "Freedom Flotilla" after dark on Sunday, according to the Twitter page of Free Gaza, one organization participating in the flotilla.


Two hours later, Israel Radio broadcast a recording of one of the missile boats warning the flotilla, which is carrying humanitarian aid and pro-Palestinian activists, not to approach Gaza.


"If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade," the radio message continued.


One tweet at about 11 pm said, "We didn't expect them now," adding that the participants thought Israeli forces would arrive Monday morning.


This is a help message," said one post from the flotilla on the Free Gaza website. "We have been contacted by the Israelis but are still fine, don't worry."


"The signals are going up and down," the website said. "Israel is doing its best to block the satellite."


An Al Jazeera reporter aboard one of the vessels said the flotilla's organizers have decided to take a different route – far from the Israeli vessels - in order to avoid a confrontation during the night.


The pro-Palestinian activists are planning to continue the journey towards Gaza at sunrise, he said.


The six-ship convoy carrying aid for Palestinians set sail for Gaza Sunday afternoon in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade of the impoverished territory and warnings that it would be intercepted. The ships, led by a Turkish vessel with 600 people on board, departed from international waters off Cyprus.


Sources in Gaza said some vessels have lost contact with one another, adding that Israeli Navy vessels have begun to call on the boats to identify themselves.


The IDF said naval forces radioed the ships, but were ignored. The army said if the vessels continue to ignore their instructions, forces will begin the process of seizing them.


"If all goes well and there are no problems or interruptions of any kind it should reach Gaza around 2 pm local time tomorrow (Monday)," said Mary Hughes-Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, one of the organizers of the convoy.


Israel has already said it will prevent the convoy from reaching the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, a sliver of territory which Israel has blockaded for three years to prevent weapons and other materials it fears could be used for military purposes from reaching the enclave's Islamist rulers.


Hamas has been preparing to receive the convoy at the small harbor in Gaza City. But Israeli marine commandos have held drills to practice boarding and searching the ships.

One of the vessels of the flotilla (Photo: AFP)


Activists face arrest and deportation, and their cargo will be confiscated and examined before a possible transfer by Israel to Gaza, Israeli military officials have said.


Arab-Israeli Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi (National Democratic Assembly) said during a live broadcast from one of the ships, "We are part of the Palestinian people; they are trying to break us. The (Israeli) ships appeared by surprise and radioed us.


"No one has mentioned Gaza for the past four years. But this past week the whole world is seeing the war crimes committed by Israel as a conquering country that violates human basic rights," said the MK.


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The flotilla was organized by pro-Palestinian groups and a Turkish human rights organization. Turkey has urged Israel to allow it safe passage and says the 10,000 tons of aid the convoy is carrying is humanitarian.


Muslim Turkey is one of Israel's closest allies in the Middle East but relations have soured. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has frequently criticized the Jewish state's policies toward the Palestinians.


Israel and neighboring Egypt tightened controls on Gaza's borders after Hamas, which rejects the Jewish state, took over the territory in 2007. Tension has remained high since Israel's December 2008-January 2009 offensive, which killed some 1,400.


Israel has set up a holding camp for activists at the coastal city of Ashdod and said that any aid should be handed over for screening before being distributed in Gaza through Israeli-approved channels.


Earlier Sunday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman evaluated the situation, and said that if the flotilla participants and organizers were really interested in human rights, they would demand that Hamas allow Red Cross staff to visit Gilad Shalit, the abducted IDF soldier who has been held in Gaza for four years.


According to Lieberman, the fact that they did not do so, and failed to see that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, shows that their aim is merely to provoke Israel, and has nothing to do with human rights.


Reuters, Attila Somfalvi, Ali Waked and Shmulik Grossman contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 05.31.10, 00:02
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