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Thursday May 27, 2010 8:22 AM (EST+7)
Israel ready to stop Gaza-bound ship convoy

Read more: Freedom Flotilla, Gaza convoy, closure, blockade

JERUSALEM, May 26 (Ori Lewis/Reuters) - An Israeli military source said on Wednesday that Israel's navy was ready to prevent a Turkish-led convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid from entering the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Israel and Egypt closed Gaza's borders after Islamist Hamas took control of the territory in 2007 and refused to forswear violence against the Jewish state. Gaza's 1.5 million people say they face shortages of water and medicine.

In accordance with the directions of the Israeli government, the Israel Defence Forces and the Israeli Navy are preparing to prevent the flotilla from reaching the Gaza shore, the military source said.

The source said naval forces had held a number of exercises to prepare to enforce the sea blockade.

In recent weeks Israel has allowed some goods it used to ban, such as clothes, shoes, wood and aluminum, to enter the strip through land border crossings. It continues to allow a steady flow of humanitarian aid into the coastal territory.

The military source said if the ships did not turn back after being given fair warning, they would be boarded by Israeli naval forces and taken to an Israeli port where the passengers and crew would be sent home and the goods transferred to Gaza.

If forces did board the ships, they would ensure that no terror operatives or explosives were on board, the source said.

Israel is under international pressure to relax its blockade, which the United Nations says punishes people in Gaza for the policies of Hamas, whose founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

The international flotilla carrying some 10,000 tonnes of medical equipment, housing materials and other supplies is expected to reach Israeli waters in the coming few days. (Additional reporting by Ayala Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Editing by Noah Barkin)







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