The Israeli military is monitoring a blockade-busting flotilla on its way to the Gaza Strip and is preparing to block it if need be, Channel 2 news reported Sunday night.
The convoy, consisting of several small vessels, was expected to sail from Greece to Gaza in the coming days, carrying humanitarian supplies for the Hamas-controlled enclave.
Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday night the flotilla was another indication of the failure of the 2005 Israeli pullout from Gaza, saying in a statement: “Ten years after the disengagement rockets are fired at our children from [the evacuated settlements of] Gush Katif, tunnels are dug towards our communities from Gaza and terror flotillas are sent to our shores from Turkey…we evacuated Jews and got flotillas in return.”
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 when the Islamist Hamas group took control of the Strip in a bloody coup, ousting the Palestinian Authority leadership. Both countries say the security blockade is meant to prevent Hamas, a terror group avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, from importing weaponry into Gaza to use against Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces has intercepted a number of civilian ships carrying weapons headed for Gaza in recent years. It has also turned away attempts by activists to break the blockade.
The Marianne of Gothenburg, a Scandinavian fishing boat, traveled from Sweden through the waters of Norway, Germany, France, Spain and Portugal before reaching Messina, Italy, last week. The boat was making its way to Crete, Greece, on Sunday, before attempting to breach the blockade and reach Gaza. Along the way it was to meet up with at least two other boats that make up the flotilla.
The activists say the vessels are carrying a cargo of solar panels and medical supplies for Gaza residents, who are still recovering from last summer’s conflict, and expect to reach the Strip by the end of the month, unless they are intercepted.
An Israeli-Arab Knesset member caused an uproar in parliament Sunday when he announced his intention to join the flotilla. Politicians from both the left and right condemned MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List, who sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon telling them of his plan.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) criticized Ghattas for abusing the immunity he enjoys as a member of the Israeli parliament.
“It indicates he is serving the enemy under parliamentary immunity,” she said. “In contrast to the picture that the Palestinians are trying to paint, Israel allows goods, food, and construction materials into Gaza. The flotilla is the fruit of the efforts of provocateurs who only want to blacken Israel’s name.”
The center-left Zionist Union party slammed Ghattas for disguising a political statement as a relief effort.
“Just as the flotilla to Gaza isn’t humanitarian, but a political act that gives legitimacy to Hamas rule and will increase the terror against Israel, so too MK Basel Ghattas’s joining it is unfortunate, and not humanitarian but political,” it said.
Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman called Ghattas’s party “just one big terror flotilla,” the Ynet news website reported.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) criticized the move as a “provocation.”
Ghattas urged Israeli leaders to let the boats reach the Palestinian coastal enclave — or face an international backlash.
“There is no reason to prevent us from reaching Gaza and delivering the assistance that we are bringing with us,” Ghattas wrote in the letter to Netanyahu and Ya’alon. “I call on you to instruct the Israel security forces to stay away from the flotilla and to let it continue on its way.”
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.