Activists, Israeli Navy prepare for flotilla bound for Gaza

Source: JTA, 6-28-11

Israel’s Navy is preparing to intercept the pro-Palestinian flotilla due to set sail for the Gaza Strip from Mediterranean ports later this week.

Commandos from the Israeli Navy’s elite Shayetet 13 unit have spent weeks preparing to stop the flotilla from reaching Gaza, including practicing new ways to quickly board the ships’ upper decks and how to use water cannons and other non-lethal riot control methods.

The Navy wants to avoid a repeat of  the violence that occurred when Israeli commandos boarded a ship in last year’s flotilla to Gaza. Nine Turkish activists, including a dual Turkish-American citizen, were killed in clashes with the commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara in May 2010.

This year’s flotilla activists, whose stated goal is to break Israel’s maritime blockade of the Hamas-run coastal strip, have attended workshops on the use of passive resistance tactics. The activists also have been trained to transmit information from the ships until the last minute and keep video chips hidden from boarding Israeli soldiers, according to a blog post by flotilla participant Medea Benjamin.

Unnamed Israeli officials told Israeli media outlets that some flotilla participants hope to kill Israeli soldiers and are planning to bring aboard bags of the chemical sulfur to pour it on soldiers as they attempt to board the ships. Israeli officials have identified at least two participants in the flotilla as having ties to Hamas.

However, a flotilla organizer, Israeli expatriate Dror Feiler, told journalists that flotilla participants have signed a declaration of nonviolence. Feiler said that dangerous chemicals would not be allowed on board flotilla vessels.

“If Israel suspects anyone, it should provide us with information so we can stop him,” he told Israel Army Radio Tuesday morning. “Violent people are not permitted to take part in the flotilla.”

The flotilla is expected to be a smaller version of last year’s, with some 10 ships, including two cargo ships, carrying about 500 activists reportedly set to take part, instead of the at least 15 ships carrying thousands of activists originally planned.

Earlier this month, the Turkish Islamic charity IHH, which helped organize last year’s flotilla with the Free Gaza Movement, withdrew the participation of the Mavi Marmara in this year’s flotilla. The IHH, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the European Union, said the ship did not gain necessary approval from Turkish port authorities for technical reasons.

The flotilla ran into further problems this week.

The departure date of flotilla ships from Greek ports was pushed off from the originally scheduled Tuesday launch due to a nationwide strike. Meanwhile, one ship’s propeller was cut off in what flotilla organizers are calling sabotage….READ MORE

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