Israel seeks aid of diplomats to prevent flotilla going to Gaza

MARK WEISS in Jerusalem | The Irish Times – Wednesday, March 23, 2011

ISRAEL HAS launched a campaign to prevent an international flotilla setting sail for Gaza next month.

Organisers of “Freedom Flotilla 2”, including representatives from Ireland, met in Madrid last month and announced plans to sail to Gaza in May in an effort to break Israel’s maritime blockade on the coastal strip. The event is planned to take place in the second half of May, a year after a flotilla of six ships was intercepted by Israeli commandos in the Mediterranean, resulting in the death of nine Turkish activists.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon summoned foreign diplomats, including Ireland, to the foreign ministry in Jerusalem yesterday and urged them to work together with Israel to prevent another flotilla taking place.

Mr Ayalon, speaking to journalists before he addressed the diplomats, said Israel will prevent another flotilla, which he termed “a Palestinian provocation”, from reaching Gaza. “This will be a clear provocation against international law and all peace-seeking countries should make sure another flotilla will not set sail.”

He said Israel has gone a long way to ease conditions in Gaza and there were no shortages in the Hamas-ruled territory. “If anyone of goodwill would like to send anything to Gaza he has ample ways to do it through our ports or Egyptian ports.”

Conor Long, deputy head of mission at the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv, attended the briefing and will report back to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

A department travel warning already exists, advising Irish citizens against all travel to the Gaza Strip, including the waters off Gaza. In June last year, Israel and Ireland co-operated to prevent the possibility of injuries when Israeli forces intercepted the Gaza-bound Rachel Corrie aid ship with five Irish activists on board, including Nobel laureate Maireád Maguire.

Israeli officials believe the Turkish Islamic group IHH, which co-ordinated last summer’s flotilla, will seek another violent confrontation to raise international awareness over Gaza. Jerusalem intends to discuss ways of thwarting next month’s initiative with each of the 15 countries whose nationals are expected to participate in the flotilla.

But an Irish diplomatic source, stressing Dublin has never endorsed Israel’s blockade on Gaza, said there is not much any country can do if the cargo is legal, the vessels participating are seaworthy and the passengers do not intend to break the law.

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