Israel bracing for ‘mother of all flotillas’ to Gaza 11Sep10 September 12, 2010

The Daily News -  11 September 2010

Israel is bracing for what is being described by its military as the “mother of all flotillas,” comprising up to 20 ships planning to set sail for the blockaded Gaza Strip, a report said Tuesday.

The flotilla is being organized by a coalition of nongovernmental organizations from Europe and the United States, including a group calling itself European Jews for a Just Peace, Israel’s Jerusalem Post reported. The groups hope to set off within the coming months.

“We hope to have a broad coalition from European countries, and also maybe the United States,” Dror Feiler, a Stockholm-based Israeli-Swedish musician and artist who is one of the organizers behind the flotilla plans, told the Post on Monday. “We would like it to be double the size of the last flotilla, with at least a dozen ships and more than a thousand people.”

According to the newspaper, the Israeli military is closely tracking the planned flotilla and is preparing for a wide range of scenarios, including the possibility that due to the large number of ships, it will need to stop the vessels far from Israel’s shores.

“The Israeli army can stop 12 or 50 ships if it wants,” Feiler said. “[Nonetheless] there are so many ships since so many people want to get together to stop the siege, which is a collective punishment on the people of Gaza and is unacceptable.”

The May 31 attack

The last flotilla aimed at breaking the Gaza blockade was stopped by Israeli commandos at the end of May. Nine activists, including eight pro-Palestinian Turks and one U.S. citizen of Turkish descent, were killed during the May 31 attack, which reduced already-tense relations between Turkey and Israel to historic lows.

The coalition behind the new flotilla effort includes the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, and the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla stopped in May, the Post said.

The newspaper also reported Tuesday that the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla attack requested that the Israeli chief of staff’s assistant, Col. Erez Weiner, give the court further information on the May 31 raid.

The Turkel Committee, headed by retired high court judge Yaakov Turkel, asked for electronic data and other materials that a committee headed by Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland analyzed when investigating the military aspect of the Gaza flotilla raid.

Turkel’s probe also asked for explanations of the soldiers’ behavior on the Mavi Marmara, the ship where the nine activists were killed, and for answers to additional questions that the Eiland Commission did not probe.

Uzi Arad, the head of the Israeli National Security Council, is expected to testify next week before the committee, as is Meir Dagan, the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service. Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal will testify Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Olmert and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi have previously testified before the Turkel Commission.

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