June 15, 2011 - 12:00am

JERUSALEM, June 15 (Xinhua) -- The Israel Navy on Wednesday held an exercise incorporating several special forces units as part of ongoing preparations to prevent an international aid flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks.

The organizers of "Freedom Flotilla 2," to include 15 ships and some 1,500 pro-Palestinian activists, plan to set sail from European ports later this month and are expected to approach Gaza coast in the first week of July.

Members of the Israeli navy's elite Shayetet 13 commando unit, in conjunction with other special forces teams, on Wednesday held mock raids simulating scenarios that can possibly unfold in case a military operation were to be ordered, including violent encounters with armed activists.

Military officials said the exercise was based on lessons drawn from a botched raid in May last year, when nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-flagged vessel that attempted to breach the blockade on Gaza, were killed in a confrontation with members of Shayetet 13.

Aside from intensive drilling, the unit has summoned its reserve teams for active duty and the soldiers are instructed in the use of advanced non-lethal crowd dispersal gear, The Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday.

Israel's intelligence community is reportedly engaged in collecting details on the flotilla and the organizations that are expected to partake.

Efforts are also being invested on the public relations front. The Israel Defense Forces is gearing towards a quick release of video footage of the next raid against the flotilla while preventing its participants from broadcasting their video images, according to the Yedioth Aharonot daily.


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