Flotilla planners act with caution

Warnings and political sensitivities shadow the latest plan to challenge the Gaza blockade.

Posted: June 28, 2011

ATHENS, Greece - Organizers of a flotilla to challenge Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip say they'll sail any day now, but they are struggling to overcome delays that they attribute to Israeli pressure. They have held regular news conferences to talk up their campaign, but they are so cautious that they will not say where their boats are docked.

Dire warnings and diplomatic sensitivities shadow the politically charged plan to deliver aid to the Palestinian territory. The fear is a reprise of a similar mission a year ago that ended when nine activists on a Turkish vessel died in a raid by Israeli commandos.

Several hundred activists, many from Europe, Canada, and the United States, plan to board 10 boats, including two cargo vessels carrying medicine and other aid, for a journey of several days across the Mediterranean to Gaza.

Israel's military has warned it will thwart any attempt to breach the sea blockade of the Palestinian territory, and it says it has trained for an operation that would minimize the potential for casualties.

Activists view Israel's blockade as a human-rights violation; Israel says the restrictions prevent weapons from reaching Iran-backed Hamas extremists who violently seized control of Gaza in 2007. Egypt also had a blockade on Gaza since 2007. After last year's confrontation, Israel significantly eased restrictions on cargo crossing into Gaza by land, and this month Egypt reopened its Rafah passenger crossing with Gaza.

The Israeli government Monday dropped a threat of lengthy deportation orders against journalists on the flotilla. On Sunday, Israel's Government Press Office had warned that any journalist caught on board the flotilla would be violating Israeli entry laws and could face deportation and a 10-year ban from the country.

In Athens, the loose coalition of activists' groups said it was ready to sail in the next few days but gave no specific date. They contended Greece was throwing up "administrative obstacles" in response to pressure from Israel.

Greece says it opposes the Gaza blockade but has urged Greek citizens and Greek-registered vessels not to participate in the flotilla, noting the risk of violence.

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