Israel to cope with flotilla ‘hardcore activists’


Israel will be able to handle any violence from “hardcore activists” on board a new Gaza-bound flotilla, the foreign minister said Tuesday, amid claims some were planning attacks with chemicals.
“The moderate elements who were planning to join the flotilla… know that for everyone who wants to help people in Gaza, that there is a legal way to do it,” Avigdor Lieberman told public radio in a telephone interview from Zagreb.
“It is clear that those who are still participating in the flotilla are the hardcore terror activists,” he said just hours after military officials warned that some of the passengers were bent on killing soldiers. “No one doubts the intention of those people… But I am sure we will cope with them.” Israel is gearing up to block the arrival of a new international aid flotilla which is planning to set sail from Greece later this week in a bid to break the five-year blockade on the Gaza Strip. A similar attempt by a six-ship convoy to reach the Palestinian territory in May 2010 ended in bloodshed when Israeli troops stormed the lead vessel, killing nine Turkish activists and sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara.
Following two days of deliberations, Israel’s security cabinet on Monday ordered the navy to stop the second flotilla from reaching Gaza, but urged it to do so with “minimal confrontation” with the passengers.
Some 350 pro-Palestinian activists from 22 countries including Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain are set to join the flotilla, among them a good number of middle-aged as well as elderly Americans and Europeans.
Security officials initially told the cabinet that Israel had no information that anyone linked to a terror group was planning to take part in the flotilla, the Haaretz newspaper reported Monday.
But by nightfall, the assessment had changed dramatically, with a military spokeswoman telling reporters they had information about “radical elements” who were planning to murder Israeli soldiers. “There are radical elements on board the American boat who have said they want to kill Israeli soldiers,” said Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitz.
“We also know that one of the boats is carrying dangerous incendiary chemicals that these human rights militants want to use against Israeli soldiers,” she said. But Dror Feiler, an Israeli-Swedish spokesman for the flotilla, denied the allegations, telling Israel’s army radio it was a barefaced attempt to pre-empt the military’s use of violence. “All the passengers signed a pledge of non-violence because we don’t want the flotilla to resemble what happened on the last one,” he said, rejecting Israeli claims as “an attempt to rationalise in advance the use of violence by the army.”
“We have no intention of confronting anyone,” said Feiler who will be travelling on board a Swedish ship to Gaza.