Operation Sea Breeze
Operation "Sea Breeze" is the Israeli code name for the martiime blockade of Gaza. On May 24, 2010, the Freedom Flotilla set sail for Gaza determined to, once again, challenge Israel's blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in an open-air prison. Under the coordination of the Free Gaza Movement, numerous human rights organizations, including the Turkish Relief Foundation (IHH), the Perdana Global Peace Organization from Malaysia, the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, and the Swedish and Greek Boat to Gaza initiatives will send three cargo ships loaded with reconstruction, medical and educational supplies. At least five passenger boats with over 600 people on board accompanied the cargo ships.
Israel said it would prevent, if necessary by force, the nine-ship flotilla of peace activists and humanitarian aid from reaching the Gaza Strip. The Freedom Flotilla carried around 700 pro-Palestinian activists from various countries, as well as 10,000 tons of aid. It was by far the largest fleet of aid to try to reach Gaza since Israel imposed its blockade in 2007. The six-ship flotilla carrying more than 600 pro-Palestinian activists and 10,000 tons of supplies headed for the Gaza Strip as the Israeli navy prepared to intercept it. Three Israeli naval missile boats left their base in Haifa late Sunday [30 May 2010] to prevent the ships from entering a 32-kilometer exclusion zone enforced by Israel along Gaza's Mediterranean Sea coast.
The Israeli navy warned the convoy by radio not to approach Gaza, told the captains of the boats they were approaching a blockaded area and asked them to either proceed to the Israeli port of Ashdod or turn back. Activists on board responded that they would continue toward their destination.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon referred to the flotilla in an interview Saturday, 29 May 2010), and stated that "This is a provocation intended to delegitimize Israel. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. ... humanitarian issues were not their goal. We will not allow the flotilla to enter Gaza, as this is an infringement of Israel's sovereignty.... After Israel declared its acceptance of the two-state solution, froze construction and removed roadblocks, the Palestinians are continuing their incitement against Israel."
On the day before the Gaza flotilla confronted the Israeli navy, Al-Jazeera TV documented the pre-battle atmosphere created by men on board the flotilla, who chanted a well-known Islamic battle cry invoking the killing and defeat of Jews in battle. Participants on the flotilla were heard on Al Jazeera shouting "Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud, Jaish Muhammad saya'ud", which means 'Jews, remember Khyabar, the army of Mohammed is returning'. This cry relates to an event in the seventh century when the early Moslems massacred and expelled Jews from the town of Khaybar, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Khaibar was the last Jewish village defeated by Muhammad's army in 628. Many Jews were killed in that battle, which marked the end of Jewish presence in Arabia. There are Muslims who see that as a precursor to future wars against Jews. At gatherings and rallies of extremists, this chant is often heard as a threat to Jews to expect to be defeated and killed again by Muslims. A participant interviewed on Al-Jazeera TV, May 29, 2010 said: "Right now we face one of two happy endings: either Martyrdom or reaching Gaza." [Based on Islamic call before battle: "Either victory or Martyrdom".]
A passenger on board one of the vessels participating in the Gaza flotilla was interviewed by PressTV before IDF soldiers intercepted. He spoke in English, explaining how he had tried twice in the past to be a shahid (martyr). He refered to a previous convoy that he joined in hopes of being killed for a cause, but to no avail, and expressed his wish that on board this flotilla, he will succeed.
On Sunday (30 May 2010), Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said "The main organizer of the flotilla is an extremist Islamic organization with ties to Hamas and global Jihad and it is unfortunate that there are those who are duped into thinking that this exercise has anything to do with humanitarianism or human-rights.... The fact that participants on the flotilla would chant such things shows the true nature of some of the participants and its real motivation. This amply demonstrates that many are not against a particular policy of the Israeli government, but have very real and dangerous hatred for Jews and the Jewish state."
On 31 May 2010 a total of 9 passengers were killed, and dozens of others were injured, when Israeli commandos stormed the flotilla, which was led by a Turkish ship early Monday morning in international waters, about 60 kilometers off the coast of Israel. Israeli military officials initially reported a higher death toll. Israel says that seven soldiers were also wounded in the violence. Israeli Government Spokesman Mark Regev says the activists had weapons and were prepared to attack the commandos when they came aboard the ship. But representatives of the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the flotilla, described the raid as an attack on civilians saying the activists had no violent intentions. Israel took the ships to a nearby port to begin deportation procedures for the activists. It says that after inspection, the humanitarian aid will be transferred to Gaza by land.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman spoke Tuesday, 1 June 2010 with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. FM Liberman emphasized to Secretary General Ban that the subject of the incident was the basic right of Israeli soldiers to defend themselves against an attack by a gang of thugs and terror supporters who had prepared clubs, metal crowbars and knives in advance of the confrontation. FM Liberman added that the initial intention of the flotilla participants was to strike at Israel's sovereignty and create a provocation that would cause bloodshed.
On 02 June 2010 Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel has a right to inspect cargo going into Gaza. "And we do let civilian goods get into Gaza," said Netanyahu. "There's no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week an average of 10,000 tons of goods enter Gaza. There's no shortage of food. There's no shortage of medicine. There's no shortage of other goods. So our naval personnel had no choice but to board these vessels."
On 03 June 2010 Netanyahu renewed his defense of the blockade on Gaza, saying it is needed to prevent rockets and other weapons from being smuggled into Gaza by Iran and others. "The international community cannot afford an Iranian port in the Mediterranean. Fifteen years ago, I cautioned about an Iranian development that has come to pass. People now recognize that danger," Netanyahu said. "Today, I warn of this impending willingness to enable Iran to establish a navy port right next to Israel, right next to Europe. The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they would be targeted tomorrow."
On 05 June 2010 IDF naval commandos boarded the 7th flotilla ship attempting to break the maritime closure of the Gaza Strip, with full compliance of the ship's crew members. The boat and its crew were led to the Ashdod port and transferred to the custody of the appropriate authorities. Israeli forces had repeatedly called to the activists aboard the "Rachel Corrie" to land at Ashdod.
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