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Israel ready to stop boats heading for Gaza

Reuters

November 2, 2011 | 2:42 pm

A Palestinian flag flutters during a rally celebrating the release of prisoners from Israeli jails, in Gaza City on Oct. 18. Photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot

A Palestinian flag flutters during a rally celebrating the release of prisoners from Israeli jails, in Gaza City on Oct. 18. Photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot

The Israeli navy will prevent two yachts carrying pro-Palestinian activists which left Turkey on Wednesday from breaching an Israeli blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only “we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers.”

Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying Irish, Canadian and U.S. activists, Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a “provocation,” she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gazan coast.

Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza, Leibovich said. Israel blockades the Gaza coast to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian gunmen in the territory, she added.

The military spokesman’s office said the navy was “prepared to contact” the vessels and had “completed the necessary preparations in order to prevent them from reaching the Gaza Strip.”

Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, after routing Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel permits humanitarian aid and supplies to reach the territory through a land crossing, and Gaza also shares a border with Egypt.

An Israeli government official told Reuters earlier that Israel “will take whatever measures will be necessary” to maintain its blockade.

Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals on one ship in a Gaza-bound flotilla last year when the activists fought them with clubs and knives as the commandos tried to seize control of the ship to enforce the blockade.

The incident badly damaged ties between Israel and Turkey, which reached a crisis point two months ago when Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel rejected Turkey’s request for an apology for the flotilla deaths.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Tim Pearce

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