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Israel Fears European Ship May Sail to Gaza to 'Break Siege'

Barak Ravid

GAZA - Israel is worried by reports that a group of left-wing activists from Europe plans to set sail for Gaza from Cyprus on August 5 under the slogan "breaking the siege."The activists will reportedly include three members of the European Parliament.

It is still not certain how serious the plans are. However, Israel fears that if the ship does sail, it will create a provocation that would at best cause public relations damage, and could even result in violence.

The ship is being organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the International Solidarity Movement. Many of the latter's members have been barred from entering Israel on security grounds.

The organizers have reportedly raised almost $300,000 to finance the operation and recruited 60 people to sail on the ship. These include activists from several countries as well as journalists.

According to the Free Gaza Movement's Web site, the activists will include a Holocaust survivor, a survivor of the Palestinian Nakba, as Palestinians call Israel's creation in 1948, and other members of the Palestinian diaspora, in addition to the European parliamentarians.


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According to the Web site, the plan is for the boat to enter Gaza's territorial waters - and, more specifically, the "special security zone" that the Israel Navy has declared off-limits to all boats. The organizers thereby hope to provoke a clash with the navy that will end with them being forcibly arrested.

An Israeli government source said that Israel still has little information about the plan, and it is not clear whether it will ever come off. A year ago, he noted, Israel received reports of a similar plan, but due to logistical difficulties, that initiative never got off the ground.

In conversations with their Israeli counterparts, Cypriot officials have expressed concern about the boat departing from their shores, but say they can do nothing to prevent it. According to the information that has reached Israel, however, Cyprus is not the only point of departure under consideration; the ship might also sail from Turkey or from Alexandria in Egypt.

Israel is still trying to discover the ship's exact identity and more details about the organizers' intentions. It is also trying to decide how to respond. One option that has been raised in official discussions is to simply allow the ship to reach Gaza, thereby foiling the organizers' apparent desire for a clash.

© Copyright 2008 Haaretz

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