* Diplomatic efforts have reduced flotilla
* Israel says it blockades Gaza to stop weapons smuggling
By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM, June 28 Israeli Foreign Minister
Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday participants in an aid
flotilla planning to challenge an Israeli blockade of the Gaza
Strip were seeking "confrontation and blood".
Pro-Palestinian activists have said around a dozen ships
carrying aid to Gaza, territory controlled by Hamas Islamists,
could depart from European ports in the coming days.
A year ago, nine Turkish activists, including a dual
U.S.-Turkish national, were killed in clashes with Israeli
soldiers who raided a Gaza-bound convoy in the eastern
Israel has said it will prevent the new flotilla from
reaching the coastal enclave, and Lieberman repeated its offer
to the activists to deliver aid via the Israeli port of Ashdod
or through Egypt or the United Nations.
"They are clearly there to create a provocation, looking for
confrontation and blood and for many pictures on television
screens," Lieberman told Israel Radio, adding that there was a
"hard core of terror activists" among the participants.
On their website, U.S. participants in the flotilla said
their intentions were peaceful and they would set sail "without
weapons protection or threat of force".
At a news conference in Athens on Monday, a group of some
400 activists that included European MPs, a former CIA analyst
and a 75-year Holocaust survivor, professors and authors
complained that Greece was bowing to pressure from Israel and
using bureaucratic tactics to try to block their departure.
Israel says its blockade of the Gaza Strip is aimed at
stopping weaponry from reaching Hamas, which is shunned by the
West because of its refusal to recognise the Jewish state,
renounce violence and accept existing peace deals.
Palestinians say the blockade is illegal and is helping to
strangle Gaza's underdeveloped economy.
On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak urged
governments not to assist the flotilla and said he had ordered
the army to stop the vessels if needed.
The United States has supported the Gaza naval blockade and
warned activists last week that the voyage would be
irresponsible and dangerous.
Lieberman said Israeli leaders and officials had held
"hundreds, perhaps thousands of discussions at various levels"
with foreign governments to persuade them to urge their citizens
not to join the flotilla.
An Israeli military source said Israel had information that
some activists were planning to attack soldiers with acid and
lethal chemical agents if they boarded the ships.
Dror Feiler, an Israeli participant in the flotilla, denied
the allegation in an interview with Israeli Army Radio and said
all of the passengers had signed a pledge of non-violence.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)