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Israel urges Lebanon to stop new flotilla

(JTA) — Israel urged Lebanon and the international community  to stop two ships from sailing to the Gaza Strip from Lebanon.

The Junia and the Julia were set to depart Friday or Saturday, carrying aid to the Palestinian territory. Israel warned that this latest attempt to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza would be stopped, even if Lebanon refused to do so.

Gabriela Shelev, the Israeli envoy to the United Nations, wrote letters to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council saying that the flotilla was an attempt to “incite a confrontation and raise tensions in our region.”

“Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the … naval blockade,” Shalev wrote.

Israel is technically at war with Lebanon; in 2006, the Hezbollah terrorist group launched a war against Israel and has since rearmed.

Israel loosened its  blockade after its May 31 raid on a Turkish-flagged vessel that was part of a six-ship flotilla resulted in violence that killed nine Turkish passengers, including a Turkish American, and injured seven Israeli troops. Commando raids on the other five ships in the flotilla ended without incident.

Israeli authorities now allow almost all consumer goods into Gaza, but still ban exports.

The U.N. Human Rights Council last month appointed a team of three international experts to investigate the May flotilla incident.

Israel rejected calls for the international inquiry, saying its troops acted in self-defense, and noting that it had set up two inquiries: one military, as well as a civilian panel that included two foreigners. 

Three Spanish passengers on board one of the ships involved in the May 31 raid are suing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and six other Israeli government officials for crimes against humanity. They said they were arrested illegally and lightly tortured. 

Israel decided last Friday to return the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish-flagged ship in the May flotilla, to Turkey in a bid to improve relations between the two countries, which worsened since the flotilla raid. The ties between the former allies had been damaged following the Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09.

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