JERUSALEM — Several Israeli ministers have accused the army of "spin" over its claims that activists on board a Gaza-bound flotilla plan to harm Israeli soldiers, Maariv newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The paper quoted several unnamed members of Israel's security cabinet as saying the claims were "media spin" and "public relations hysteria."
On Monday, Israeli military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovitz said there were "radical elements" among the activists participating in the sea convoy, including some carrying "dangerous incendiary chemicals."
But security cabinet ministers told Maariv they were given no such information when they were briefed on the flotilla this week, and even accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office of being behind the disinformation.
"Netanyahu decided to change the version about the nature of the flotilla for two reasons that are connected to the international community," one of the ministers, who were not named, told the newspaper.
"The first is for reasons of covering himself -- if, suddenly, in the course of the military operation something goes awry and there are casualties, Israel will be able to say that it warned of that in advance.
"The second reason is to apply pressure on the international community so that governments will prevent the ships from leaving for the flotilla from the outset."
The newspaper said ministers were angry they had not been briefed about the alleged threats from the flotilla, which is expected to set sail a little more than a year after a Turkish-led mission to the Gaza Strip.
That attempt ended in bloodshed when Israeli commandos raided the ships, killing nine Turkish activists and prompting international condemnation.
Israel has been following preparations for the new flotilla closely, and ministers said it was "inconceivable" that institutions including the Israeli military "would produce for the media information that is the complete opposite of what we were told."
"There is increasing reason to fear that this is spin. Nothing of the information that was disseminated to the media was presented to us," another minister told Maariv on condition of anonymity.
Activists preparing to set sail with the 10-vessel convoy to Gaza have rejected claims they planned to use violence against Israeli troops.
Nearly 300 pro-Palestinian activists from 22 countries including Canada, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain are set to join the flotilla, among them dozens of middle-aged and elderly Americans and Europeans.
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