The United States on Friday warned activists against plans to send a new aid flotilla to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying it would be irresponsible and dangerous.
"Groups that seek to break Israel's maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement, adding that there were established ways to move humanitarian aid to Gaza.
"We urge all those seeking to provide such assistance to the people of Gaza to use these mechanisms, and not to participate in actions like the planned flotilla," Nuland said.
Israel on Wednesday said it had warned the United Nations that a new aid flotilla -- which activists say could depart from European ports in coming days -- could result in "dangerous consequences.
Israel has made clear it will prevent any new flotilla from reaching Gaza. A year ago, nine Turkish activists, including one with dual U.S.-Turkish nationality, were killed in an Israeli raid on a similar convoy.
The Israeli military came under fierce criticism for the May 2010 raid, which led to a severe deterioration of its ties with Turkey.
The United States, Israel's most important ally, has backed Israel's blockade of Gaza, which the Palestinian Islamist Hamas group seized from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.
Palestinians believe the Israeli sea blockade is illegal and say it is helping strangle Gaza's underdeveloped economy.
Nuland said there were "established and efficient" mechanisms for getting humanitarian aid into Gaza, and the situation there had improved significantly over the last year with a broader range of goods and materials available.
But she said that recent weapons seizures and periodic rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians illustrated the ongoing necessity for Israel to screen Gaza-bound cargo.
"We underscore that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration," Nuland said.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)