Pro-Palestinian groups threatening "mother of all flotillas"
Several dozen non-governmental groups from a number of countries are planning large-scale flotillas aimed at breaching an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip in coming weeks and months, Xinhua reported.
Israeli military officials said they are planning for a wide variety of responses to the threat, in order not to allow a repeat of the bloody clashes on board the deck of the Mavi Marmara on May 31. A flawed Israeli naval commando raid to stop the craft, part of a six-ship flotilla, left nine passengers dead, and scores of others wounded, along with several commandos.
This time, organizers, including European Jews, say they are hoping to gather upwards of 20 seacraft in a renewed bid to break the blockade, and heap humiliation upon Israel.
The Israeli government has repeatedly offered pro-Palestinian activists, including those aboard the May flotilla, and the world community at large the option of sending aid to the Hamas-led area through several crossing points and after inspection for arms and contraband.
"The crossings to Gaza are open to civilian cargo, but all items going into Gaza must be examined," Prime Minister Office spokesman Mark Regev told Xinhua Tuesday.
"We can't allow Hamas to receive more missiles from Iran, missiles that will end up being shot at Israeli civilians," Regev said. Israel has interdicted several previous Gaza and Lebanon- bound boats and freighters in recent years.
The Turkish IHH and the California-based Free Gaza Movement ( FGM), both of which were involved in the May flotilla are backing the new effort, and organizers say they are also planning to fly a plane towards the coastal-enclave.
"We intend to send an aircraft to Gaza in much the same way boats were used, without going through Israeli or Egyptian airspace," Paul Larudee, an FGM organizer told the Palestinian English-language Ma'an news agency.
"Breaking the blockade by air may be even more feasible than by sea. An aircraft cannot be boarded while in flight, and the right aircraft can land almost anywhere in Gaza," according to a statement on the FGM website.
Regev would not comment on the prospect of stopping such a flight, or possible diplomatic measures to thwart the attempt from overseas.
"We hope to have a broad coalition from European countries, and also maybe the United States," Dror Feiler, an Israeli artist who lives in Stockholm told The Jerusalem Post newspaper Monday.
"We would like it to be double the size of the last flotilla, with at least a dozen ships and more than thousand people," said Feiler.