HAIFA, Israel (AP) — Israeli warships attacked at least one of the six ships carrying pro-Palestinian
activists and aid for blockaded Gaza, killing at least two and wounding
an unknown number of people on board, an Arabic satellite service and a
Turkish TV network reported early Monday.
The Israeli military refused to comment on the report.
The al-Jazeera satellite channel reported by telephone from the Turkish ship leading the flotilla
that Israeli navy forces fired at the ship and boarded it, wounding the
captain. The Turkish NTV network also reported an Israeli takeover with
gunfire, and at least two people were killed.
The al-Jazeera broadcast ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, "Everybody shut up!"
The reports came just after daybreak, with the flotilla still well away from the Gaza shore. Israel had declared it would not allow the ships to reach Gaza.
On Sunday, Huwaida Arraf, one of the organizers, said the six-ship flotilla began the journey from
international waters off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday afternoon after
two days of delays. She said they expected to reach Gaza, about 250
miles (400 kilometers) away, on Monday afternoon, and that two more
ships would follow in "a second wave."
The flotilla was "fully prepared for the different scenarios" that might arise, and organizers
were hopeful that Israeli authorities would "do what's right" and not
stop the convoy, she said.
"We fully intend to go to Gaza regardless of any intimidation or threats of violence against us," she said. "They are going to have to forcefully stop us."
After nightfall Sunday, three Israeli navy missile boats left their base in Haifa, steaming out to sea to confront the activists' ships.
Two hours later, Israel Radio broadcast a recording of one of the missile boats warning the flotilla not to approach Gaza.
"If you ignore this order and enter the blockaded area, the Israeli navy will be forced to take all
the necessary measures in order to enforce this blockade," the radio
The al-Jazeera satellite channel reported that the ships changed course to try to avoid a
nighttime confrontation, preferring a daylight showdown for better
The flotilla, which includes three cargo ships and three passenger ships, is trying to draw attention
to Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. The boats are
carrying items that Israel bars from reaching Gaza, like cement and
other building materials. The activists said they also were carrying
hundreds of electric-powered wheelchairs, prefabricated homes and water
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that after a security check, permitted
humanitarian aid confiscated from the boats will be transferred to Gaza
through authorized channels. However, Israel would not transfer items it
has banned from Gaza under its blockade rules. Palmor said that for
example, cement would be allowed only if it is tied to a specific
This is the ninth time that the Free Gaza movement has tried to ship in humanitarian aid to Gaza since August 2008.
Israel has let ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a
three-week military offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers in January
2009. The flotilla bound for Gaza is the largest to date.
Some 700 pro-Palestinian activists are on the boats, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland, European legislators and
an elderly Holocaust survivor.
The mission has experienced repeated delays, both due to mechanical problems and a decision by
Cyprus to bar any boat from sailing from its shore to Gaza. The ban
forced a group of European lawmakers to depart from the breakaway
Turkish Cypriot northern part of the island late Saturday.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas militants violently seized control of the seaside territory in June 2007.
Israel says the measures are needed to prevent Hamas, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israel,
from building up its arsenal. But U.N. officials and international aid
groups say the blockade has been counterproductive, failing to weaken
the Islamic militant group while devastating the local economy.
In particular, the ban on building materials has prevented Gazans from repairing thousands of
homes that were damaged or destroyed in an Israeli military offensive,
meant to stop Hamas rocket attacks, early last year.
Israel rejects claims of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying it allows more than enough food and
medicine into the territory. The Israelis also point to the bustling
smuggling industry along Gaza's southern border with Egypt, which has
managed to bring consumer goods, gasoline and livestock into the seaside
Israel has condemned the flotilla as a provocation and vowed to block it from reaching Gaza.
Palmor said foreigners on the ships would be "sent back to their countries." Activists who did not
willingly agree to be deported would be detained. A special detention
facility has been set up in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
At Gaza's tiny port, meant for small fishing boats, Hamas officials, activists and foreign nationals
prepared to welcome the flotilla, sitting in some 40 small boats that
were bobbing in the sea and decorated with the flags of the countries of
the pro-Palestinian activists, including Turkey and Algeria.
In other boats, Gaza boy scouts played music, while on shore, other activists released balloons
with the faces of Palestinian civilians and militants killed in battles
with Israeli forces.
In Syria, eight Damascus-based Palestinian groups urged Arab and Muslim states to work to support the
flotilla and warned Israel against committing any "foolishness to impede
"This could create more tension and trigger unpredictable reactions," said the groups, which included Hamas and the militant Islamic Jihad.
Associated Press writer Menalaos Hadjicostis contributed to this report from Nicosia, Cyprus..