9 ships plan to break the Gaza Strip blockade next week.
The IDF is gearing up to stop a flotilla of aid ships that is directed at breaking the blockade on the Gaza Strip next week.
Two ships, one named for international activist Rachel Corrie who was killed in Gaza in 2003, sailed from Ireland to Cyprus where they will join another seven boats scheduled to set sail for Gaza next Thursday.
The ships will carry hundreds of international peace activists as well as some 10,000 tons of construction material, medical equipment and school supplies. While the Free Gaza movement claims that the flotilla is needed to provide Palestinians in Gaza with basic supplies, the IDF pointed out on Tuesday that it had, in the past week, allowed over 14,000 tons of supplies into the Gaza Strip.
On Monday night, Foreign Ministry officials met with ambassadors from Turkey, Greece, Ireland and Sweden and informed them that the ships would be stopped on their way to the Gaza Strip. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has instructed the Navy to prepare for the operation, which due to the large number of vessels will require the participation of a large naval force.
The Israeli Navy has in the past stopped international aid ships from reaching the Gaza Strip. Last June, a ship from Cyprus that included a Nobel laureate among its passengers, was stopped en route to Gaza and towed to the Ashdod port.
Meanwhile Wednesday, Hamas sped up work it is doing on the Gaza port to expand it ahead of the flotilla’s arrival.
The project is funded by a Turkish NGO, and according to a report by the Quartet, work is carried out daily by 40 workers who put in 18-hour days. The first phase of the expansion is slated to be completed by the arrival of the ships and includes increasing the depth of the port basin to 8 meters.
The second phase of the project is expected to be completed in two months and includes increasing the depth of the entire port. The third phase will be aimed at turning the Gaza sea port into a tourist attraction for local residents. According to the Quartet report, most of the raw materials for the expansion work comes from recycled rubble of buildings destroyed in the Gaza Strip.