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Three Israeli naval craft left a Haifa naval base just after 9 pm and approached the “Freedom Flotilla” after dark on Sunday, according to the Twitter page of Free Gaza, one organization participating in the flotilla.
Two hours later, Israel Radio broadcast a recording of one of the missile boats warning the flotilla, which is carrying humanitarian aid and pro-Palestinian activists, 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 message continued.
One tweet at about 11 pm said, “We didn’t expect them now,” adding that the participants thought Israeli forces would arrive Monday morning.
This is a help message,” said one post from the flotilla on the Free Gaza website. “We have been contacted by the Israelis but are still fine, don’t worry.”
“The signals are going up and down,” the website said. “Israel is doing its best to block the satellite.”
The six-ship convoy carrying aid for Palestinians set sail for Gaza in defiance of an Israeli-led blockade of the impoverished territory and warnings that it would be intercepted. The ships, led by a Turkish vessel with 600 people on board, departed from international waters off Cyprus on Sunday afternoon.
Sources in Gaza said some vessels have lost contact with one another, adding that Israeli Navy vessels have begun to call on the boats to identify themselves.
The IDF said naval forces radioed the ships, but were ignored. The army said if the vessels continue to ignore their instructions, forces will begin the process of seizing them.
“If all goes well and there are no problems or interruptions of any kind it should reach Gaza around 2 pm local time tomorrow (Monday),” said Mary Hughes-Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, one of the organizers of the convoy.
Israel has already said it will prevent the convoy from reaching the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, a sliver of territory which Israel has blockaded for three years to prevent weapons and other materials it fears could be used for military purposes from reaching the enclave’s Islamist rulers.
Hamas has been preparing to receive the convoy at the small harbor in Gaza City. But Israeli marine commandos have held drills to practice boarding and searching the ships.