THE whereabouts of an Irish ship due to take part in an aid flotilla to Gaza are being kept secret due to interest from Israeli intelligence.
The secrecy surrounding the operation follows claims in the Sunday Tribune last year that Mossad, the Israeli secret service, dispatched agents to Dundalk to photograph the crew of the Rachel Corrie, which took part in an aid mission last year.
Participants in the latest multinational aid flotilla – due to set sail at the end of March – met in Rome last month to put the final touches to their schedule.
Both the Mavi Maramara – the Turkish ship on which nine crew members were attacked and killed by Israeli soldiers last May – and the Rachel Corrie are likely to take part in the next voyage, which could involve up to 20 ships.
In the meantime, a newly acquired Irish boat, which will shortly be renamed, is believed to be somewhere in the Mediterranean and is likely to be relocated soon.
"The Israelis don't want this flotilla to sail. They want to stop it. I simply don't trust Israel to act within the law. [The flotilla] could be sabotaged," explained Fintan Lane of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) which is organising the Irish contingent.
"There is absolutely no doubt that the steering committee is being kept under surveillance by the Israeli security service."
The IPSC insisted its cautious approach was born of prudence and not paranoia and that similar levels of care were being taken with other ships.
Organisers of the March flotilla believe that the number or participants involved will far surpass that of last year's mission, which gained significant publicity after a botched Israeli operation led to the death of nine sailors.
"The likelihood is that it will be double the number that was there last time and probably more," said Lane.
"Israel intended [its intervention last year] as an act of intimidation but it backfired.
"We have a lot more people involved this time around. People are more determined than before, partly because they don't want those who died to have died in vain."
The next flotilla will involve ships from various European countries as well as the US, Canada and Malaysia.
"People are getting their ships ready. There is a lot to be done," said Lane.
"The point is to make this an even greater challenge to siege and we want to make it as difficult as possible for Israel to stop the flotilla."
Speaking recently, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that while his government was prepared to express regret for the loss of life, it would not apologise for the death of the Turkish sailors who, Israel insisted, were killed in self-defence.
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