More international flotillas headed for Gaza Strip

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Tel Aviv (Israel), June 17 (ANI): Ships from several countries, including Iran and Lebanon, have reportedly left or are planning to leave for Hamas-controlled Gaza in defiance of an Israeli maritime blockade on that territory.

Israel considers Gaza-bound convoys a security risk because of Hamas' ongoing efforts to smuggle Iranian rockets and other weaponry into Gaza since the Iran-backed group overthrew the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup there in 2007.

Israel Security Agency Director Yuval Diskin has been quoted as saying by the non-profit organisation, The Israel Project, that a port in Gaza would "pose a huge security threat to Israel."

Reports about the new flotillas come in the aftermath of a May 31 Israeli campaign to prevent an illegal flotilla from reaching Gaza, in which nine Turks or of Turkish descent, were killed after passengers on board the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship in the convoy, were confronted by Israeli commandos.

Israel had ordered the vessels to dock in the southern Israeli port of Ashdod to unload the cargo for security inspections and subsequent delivery to Gaza. Despite the refusal of all six ships to detour to Ashdod, the Mavi Marmara was the only vessel where a violent confrontation took place.

According to The Israel Project, one Iranian ship left for Gaza June 12 from the Iranian port of Khorramshahr and plans to sail through Omani, Yemeni and Egyptian territorial waters before it tries to reach Gaza.

Simultaneously, two Iranian ships organized by Iran's Society for the Defense of Palestine are scheduled to depart shortly from the southern port of Bandar Abbas and from northern Iran.

Two Lebanese organizations - Journalists without Borders and Free Palestine - are sponsoring the Naji Al Ali, with at least 50 journalists and 25 European volunteers on board, including European parliament members.

Palestinian businessman and Free Palestine chairman Yasser Kashlak is funding the Naj Al Ali vessel, as well as an all-women's ship, the Mariam.

A U.S.-based group, the Council for the National Interest Foundation, has asked its supporters to volunteer to join the Lebanese convoy.

The Insani Yardim Vakfi, or "humanitarian relief fund" (IHH), a hardcore Turkish Islamist group that partly organized and funded the previous flotilla that included the Mavi Marmara, said it will send six more ships to Gaza in July.

A German organization called Jewish Voices for a Just Peace is sponsoring a ship with 14 activists aboard, scheduled for departure in mid-July.

Free Gaza - the group that sponsored the flotilla intercepted by Israel May 31 - and Viva Palestina, a UK-based group, are planning another convoy of 10 - 15 ships, slated to leave for Gaza by October. One of the main organizers is the Norwegian-based organisation Iyad el-Sarj. (ANI)

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