After several days of deliberations, the Israeli government has decided to order the navy to head off the two wooden boats of left-wing foreign anarchists, Palestinian Authority Arabs and one Jew who are hoping to breach the blockade of Gaza by sea later this week.
It is not clear how the navy intends to carry out the order; however, officials said they do not expect a confrontation. The "Free Gaza Movement" organization sponsoring the boats also stated it has no intention of carrying out anything other than "passive resistance."
The two boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty, left Crete three days ago, setting sail for Cyprus, from which point they are expected to head for the international waters off the coast of Gaza.
Plans posted by the Free Gaza organization on its website indicate the boats intend to sit at the international border where the waters around Gaza meet those controlled by Israel for 24 hours, where they assume they cannot be touched.
After that, they hope to reach Gaza, unload equipment, pick up some Palestinian Authority Arabs living in the region and again set sail. The entire point, according to the group's mission statement, is to "break the siege of Gaza."
The Mediterranean waters around Gaza fall under the sovereignty of Israel according to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, said officials in Jerusalem. In addition, since Gaza is considered a combat zone, the navy has legal authority to patrol and operate within the coastal waters.
Gaza fishing boats also have access to the waters, according to Israeli officials.
Among the 44 activists on board ship are an Israeli Jew, anthropology professor Jeff Halper (founder of "The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions") and Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Booth has been maintaining a blog on the Free Gaza group's site.
Booth said in her August 15 posting that people on board both of the ships, as well as crew members and those working with the group in Cyprus, received death threats from anonymous callers to their cell phones. She added that she herself had received such a call as well.
"Yesterday afternoon, on the 14th of August 2008, an anonymous young man called my home in France as my daughters played hide and seek in the garden. This stranger spoke to my husband, warning him that 'your wife is in great danger. These ships will be blown up.' My husband asked how it was this person had obtained our private home number. No response was forthcoming, but the illicit threats carried on."