Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday criticized activists planning to challenge Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying their efforts are neither "necessary or useful" in helping the Palestinian people of Gaza.
A day after the State Department warned Americans against participating in the planned flotilla, Clinton said the flotilla, which Israel has said it will thwart, is not helpful and will only increase tensions. She noted that Israeli authorities had this week approved new shipments of housing construction material to enter Gaza legally and that the aim of the organizers appeared to be to merely provoke Israel into using its right to defend itself.
"We do not believe the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza," Clinton told reporters at a news conference with the visiting foreign minister of the Philippines. "We think that it's not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke action by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves."
On Wednesday, the State Department specifically discouraged U.S. citizens from taking part in the flotilla, which is planned for later this month. In a new travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, it said the Gaza coast is "dangerous and volatile" and pointed out that the Israeli navy had stopped previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea, and that's resulted in deaths, injuries and arrests. A dual U.S.-Turkish citizen was killed in a clash between Israeli forces and activists on board a Gaza-ship last year.
The department said those who participate may face arrest, prosecution and deportation by Israeli authorities, who have also said they will seek to ban anyone attempting to break the blockade from traveling to Israel for 10 years.
A group of 36 U.S. citizens has announced plans to sail aboard a U.S.-flagged vessel in a flotilla to Gaza to challenge the blockade.