Skip to main content

Israel's Barak calls planned flotilla a 'provocation'

By the CNN Wire Staff
Activist Samar al-Hajj, a flotilla organizer, speaks at a press conference in Lebanon on Thursday.
Activist Samar al-Hajj, a flotilla organizer, speaks at a press conference in Lebanon on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It "has nothing to do with humanitarian aid," Barak says
  • Reports say Cyprus is denying docking rights; the flotilla plans to stop there first
  • The international community is urged to stop the move
RELATED TOPICS
  • Israel
  • Gaza

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Friday a planned Gaza-bound aid flotilla from Lebanon "has nothing to do with humanitarian aid and is an act of hostile provocation."

The flotilla, which is expected to leave Sunday or Monday, comes nearly three months after a deadly confrontation between Israeli commandos and activists on a ship in an aid flotilla, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara. Nine Turkish nationals, including one with a dual U.S. citizenship, were killed.

"This action is meant to aid a terror organization whose purpose is to kill Israeli civilians," Barak said in a statement issued by the Israel Defense Forces.

Barak asked the Lebanese government to stop the flotilla leaving its territory. Israel has been blockading the Palestinian territory of Gaza to prevent weapons being smuggled to militants there. Critics of the move say the policy has caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The IDF statement says that Israel allows humanitarian aid into Gaza and will allow the flotilla to enter the Israeli port of Ashdod or travel to Egypt.

Barak asked those in the international community with influence in Lebanon to "stop this provocative act." But he said if the flotilla insists on arriving in Gaza, Israel will stop it and force it to its port in Ashdod.

Gabriela Shalev, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, expressed her "deeply troubling" concerns about the planned flotilla in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday.

She said people "with suspected ties to the Hezbollah terrorist organization" announced the flotilla voyage, which she reiterated was a provocation and that Israel reserves the right to prevent the ships from breaking its blockade.

"The organizers -- similar to previous attempts by others -- seek to incite a confrontation and raise tension in our region."

She also said "goods that are not weapons or materiel for war-like purposes are now entering the Gaza Strip through appropriate mechanisms that ensure their delivery as well as their civilian nature."

Speaking with media Thursday from the Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli, flotilla organizer Samar al Hajj said dozens of female activists from Europe, Egypt, Bahrain and India will set sail carrying cancer medication for women and children in addition to diapers, books, and toys.

The activists are planning to depart Lebanon on the Safinat Mariam, a boat named after the Virgin Mary.

Expected to join the Mariam is another vessel sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement and a group called Journalists Without Borders.

Al Hajj said the ships would first make their way on a 10-hour journey to Larnaca in Cyrpus, where they hope to proceed to Gaza. He said they have permission from the Lebanese authorities to travel to Cyprus, but have not received authorization from Cypriot officials to sail on to Gaza.

According to reports in the Israeli press, the boats have been denied docking rights in Cyprus.

The planned flotilla comes amid a possible breakthrough in the Middle East peace process. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited the israelis and the Palestinian Authority to direct talks last month, which would be the first since the outbreak of the Gaza offensive in late 2008.

In other flotilla-related news, the Israeli military acknowledged that it is investigating claims that some of its soldiers stole personal belongings of activists participating in the controversial Gaza aid flotilla in May.