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Israel releases Gaza flotilla activists

Facing rising international pressure to ease its blockade of Gaza, Israel began expelling hundreds of activists. They were taken from a detention center to the land border with Jordan. At least ten activists died when commandos boarded the six-ship convoy.

The flotilla of six ships, including the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, was on its way from Cyprus to Gaza carrying supplies including cement, paper and water purification tablets. “We heard more screaming and shouting before bullets were fired all over the place”, said Hasan Nowarah, one of the volunteers with the aid flotilla.

Israel’s actions had been “rightly condemned around the world”. The Israeli government has claimed its forces were shot at and attacked with weapons when they boarded the lead ship, the Mavi Marmara.

Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center explains that Hamas figures expressed hope that the flotilla would reach the Gaza Strip and warned Israel not to harm it :

Ismail Haniya, head of the de facto Hamas administration, gave a festive speech in honor of the port’s opening, in which he said that he hoped the ships would lift the “siege” of the Gaza Strip, and called on the Palestinians to organize a mass activity to receive the visitors (Al-Jazeera TV, May 29, 2010). Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman, said that Israel would pay a higher price by opposing the flotilla than it would if the ships entered the Gaza Strip. He also said that those in charge of the flotilla would lodge international protests if Israel tried to harm the ships (Al-Bayan Center website, May 29, 2010).

The de facto Hamas administration plans to dispatch 100 boats to receive the flotilla on the high seas. On board there will be lawmen, jurists and family members of prisoners serving time in Israeli jails. They will wave the flags of the countries participating in the flotilla (Ma’an News Agency, May 29, 2010). Hamas spokesman Salah al-Bardawil said that once preparations had been completed a large demonstration would take place in Gaza port, which would officially open to receive the ships. He said that the Hamas administration had appointed a committee, among whose members were several ministers, and they would receive the visitors and the aid, which would be distributed to the residents of the Gaza Strip (Al-Yawm Al-Saba’a, May 29, 2010).

Muhammad Khalaf, interior ministry representative, said that the security services had formulated a plan to secure the flotilla, and to that end an operations room had been set up. He also said that the port of Gaza would be completely closed to visitors (Al-Aqsa TV, May 29, 2010). On May 28 the security services of the Hamas administration conducted an exercise in the port in preparation for receiving the flotilla; dozens of policemen participated (Website of the Hamas administration’s information office, May 28, 2010).

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