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Report: Israeli navy prepares to stop Freedom Fleet

May 30, 2010 2:36 P.M. (Updated: May 31, 2010 8:18 P.M.)
Jerusalem - Ma'an - Israel has deployed a sizable naval force at Haifa Port to "prevent precedent of opening an unsupervised maritime route to Gaza," Israeli media reported on Sunday, as a fleet of international activists prepare to dock in Gaza to deliver aid.

According to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's decision to bar the Freedom Flotilla, carrying reconstruction material and school supplies barred from entry into Gaza by Israel, was to prevent a regular Turkey-Gaza line, alleging that Hamas would be able to receive "Iranian money," heavy rockets and antiaircraft missiles.

However, various UN bodies have called on Israel to permit the entry of the flotilla, and have repeatedly called for the lifting of Israel's blockade on the coastal enclave, which one UNDP report said three-quarters remained in disrepair almost 16 months after the end of a devastating Israeli assault on Gaza, as it maintains it siege.

The Israeli naval force reportedly includes a Hanit warship, one of the navy's most advanced missile boats, which will be the first to intercept the fleet, the daily wrote. The force will be headed by deputy commander of the navy's missile boats flotilla, and he will command the Shayetet 13 forces and naval officers as required, Israeli media reported.

"This is a relatively simple mission, the likes of which we have carried out a number of times in the past, even against armed terrorists," a Navy source by one of the boats told the daily. "The reason we are deploying such a large force and after much preparation, is to minimize the PR damage we may suffer while carrying out the main mission, which is to prevent the precedent of opening an unsupervised maritime route to Hamas in Gaza."

"Experience shows that a large number of forces diminishes the volume of violence needed to carry out the mission," a Navy statement said, the online version of the newspaper quoted."The mission is relatively simple and we are aware that the other side will try to make us look bad. We will show restraint and not respond to provocations, we will do only what is necessary to carry out the mission, no more, but no less either."

The Israeli army is maintaining its observation of the fleet, which include aerial surveillance. Organizers on the boat told various media outlets that they would resist any attempts to bar their entry into Gaza, without the use of violence.

Israel hopes to divert the boats to Ashdod, but organizers fear that vitally needed aid would end up stuck in Israel's security check process, ensuring delays in its delivery.

The six-vessel fleet faced several technical and logistic problems as they attempted to set sail from Cyprus on Saturday morning, reporting that several of its boats were "damaged" and that Cyprus had ordered them to leave from a different port.

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