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Outrage in Israel as Arab MP plans to join Gaza flotilla

Basel Ghattas, an MP with the Joint Arab List, has sparked controversy over his announcement to join a pro-Palestinian flotilla headed to Gaza
A member of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition Dror Feiler (C) speaks during a press conference on 12 August 2014, in Istanbul (AFP)

An announcement by an Arab Israeli lawmaker that he plans to join a pro-Palestinian flotilla seeking to break Israel's blockade on Gaza caused outrage on Monday among the country's political class.

Basel Ghattas, an MP with the Joint Arab List, sparked controversy after he announced he would join other parliamentarians and public figures from around the world in the latest attempt to reach Gaza by ship later this month. 

In a letter directed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu, Ghattas called on Israel to allow the flotilla to reach its destination and warned against any takeover. 

"I request that you command the Israeli security forces to stay away and allow the flotilla to arrive at its destination.

"Any form of takeover to prevent this will only involve Israel in yet another difficult international scandal that you and your government will be responsible for."

Gaza has been subjected to an Israeli blockade for eight years, which includes a complete ban on ships entering or leaving the coastal enclave's waters. 

Pro-Palestinian activists have repeatedly tried to reach the Hamas-run Gaza Strip by sea but have been blocked by the Israeli navy. 

In May 2010, Israeli commandos staged a botched raid on a six-ship flotilla which ended in bloodshed that claimed the lives of 10 Turkish nationals and sparked a crisis with Ankara.

Hanin Zuabi, a female Arab-Israeli MP who was on board at the time, was roundly denounced by the Israeli political establishment as a traitor - with Ghattas now facing a similar outcry. 

"It is the gravest thing possible that an Israeli MP would join the flotilla whose aim is to help the Hamas terror organisation," said Immigration Minister Zeev Elkin from the ruling right-wing Likud party.

"Israeli law does not allow anyone to serve in parliament who supports a terror organisation," he railed in an interview with army radio. 

Deputy Foreign Minster Tzipi Hotovely said that joining the attempt to run the blockade was evidence Ghattas was working against Israel. 

"The participation of an Arab-Israeli MP alongside those who want to fight against Israel is a demonstration of activity in the service of the enemy under the sponsorship of parliamentary immunity," she said in a statement late on Sunday.

She said the foreign ministry had been working to prevent the flotilla from reaching Israel's territorial waters.

Ghattas on Monday repeated his demand that the "freedom flotilla" be allowed to enter Gaza peacefully, adding that the suffering of the residents of the coastal strip was being neglected.

"The central issue here is the fact that the Israeli public is trying to ignore the fact that there are two million Palestinians just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Tel Aviv living in disgraceful poverty and hunger," he told army radio.

One of the boats involved in the bid is a Swedish trawler called Marianne of Gothenburg which set sail from Sicily on Friday evening. 

It is expected to meet up with several other vessels in the coming days to form what is being referred to as the Freedom Flotilla III, organisers say. 

They are expected to try and reach Gaza before the end of the month. 

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