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AMY TEIBEL | 06/ 5/10 09:42 AM |
Israel has faced mounting international pressure to lift the blockade since Monday’s deadly confrontation aboard a Turkish aid vessel headed for Gaza. But it stood by the embargo – which it says is needed to prevent the Islamic militant group from getting weapons – even as the Obama administration called the current restrictions “unsustainable.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the blockade in remarks following the takeover, saying it was meant to keep weapons out of the hands of the Iranian-backed Hamas and he would “not allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza.”
The 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie, which was carrying 11 pro-Palestinian activists, nine crew and hundreds of tons of aid, was intercepted in international waters, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Gaza’s shore and was being escorted to the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod, the military said.
The military said Saturday’s takeover began at 12:15 p.m. Israeli time (0900GMT) and took just minutes.
Footage provided by the Israeli military showed three small navy vessels pulling up to the Rachel Corrie. In a second segment, footage from an Israeli aircraft hovering about the cargo ship showed the activists sitting down in the middle of the top deck.
Military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said the ship’s captain had gathered the passengers in one area of the vessel, presumably to avoid violence. She said commandos clambered onto the boat by sea, instead of descending from helicopters as occurred on Monday when nine activists were killed.
Communications to the Rachel Corrie had been cut earlier in the day, so satellite phones weren’t operating during the takeover and activists weren’t reachable. Israeli warships had tailed the boat since early morning, determined not to let it reach Gaza despite the international outrage over Monday’s deadly raid.
Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza group that organized the trip, described the takeover as “another outrage to add to the nine murdered” and denied Israeli claims that troops had been invited aboard.
Berlin, who spoke from the group’s Cyprus office, said her organization would send more ships to Gaza, and that it has been contacted by four captains volunteering for the next mission.
The Rachel Corrie, whose passenger list included Nobel peace laureate Mairead Corrigan, had hoped to breach a 3-year blockade that has plunged Gaza’s 1.5 million residents deeper into poverty. But activists on board the Irish boat had insisted they would not resist if Israeli soldiers tried to take over their vessel.
The Israeli navy established radio contact with the vessel four times, before boarding it, and urged it to sail to Ashdod instead of Gaza, the military said. Israel has offered to inspect the cargo and send items permitted under its blockade to Gaza overland.
The navy officers addressed the boat as “Linda” – the Cambodian-flagged vessel’s name before it was renamed for an American college student who was crushed to death by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting Israeli house demolitions in Gaza.
The outcry over the aid ships has been a public relations nightmare for Israel, while giving Hamas a welcome boost and vastly improving prospects of at least easing the closure of the territory.
Turkey, one of the most outspoken critics of the Gaza blockade, said Saturday it is seeking condemnation of the previous Israeli raid at a June 7-8 summit of a 20-member security group for the Asian region.
In Northern Ireland, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said Saturday that the Rachel Corrie should have been allowed to proceed to Gaza “without Israeli aggression,” while in Sweden, the Swedish dockworkers’ union was urging its members to refuse handling Israeli goods and ships for a week, starting June 15.
In Syria, senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk accused Israel of “piracy.”
Israel has allowed ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive in Gaza against Hamas in January 2009.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Saturday that Israel would continue to enforce the blockade as long as Hamas doesn’t meet conditions for international acceptance, including a renunciation of violation and recognition of Israel.
However, critics note that weapons continue to enter Gaza through underground tunnels with Egypt and decry the increased hardship the embargo has caused ordinary Gazans.
Egypt has helped enforce the blockade on land, but President Hosni Mubarak ordered the passenger terminal with Gaza to open daily, instead of sporadically, following Monday’s raid.
The Obama administration had adopted a gradual approach of persuading Israel to ease restrictions but said Friday it was working “urgently” with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and other international partners to develop new procedures for delivering more goods to Gaza while blocking the entry of weapons.
“The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed,” National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said.
This latest attempt to breach the blockade differed significantly from the flotilla the Israeli troops intercepted on Monday, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American after being set upon by a group of activists. That raid has sharply raised tensions between Israel and its once-close ally Turkey.
In Turkey, an official autopsy report said a preliminary examination revealed that the nine men were shot a total of 30 times, and five of them were killed by gunshots to the head and their backs. One of the activists was shot to death from close range, it said.
The autopsy report will be sent to the prosecutor’s office in Istanbul in the next two months as evidence to be used against Israel in a possible court case, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
Nearly 700 activists had joined that earlier operation, most of them aboard the lead boat from Turkey that was the scene of the violence. That boat, the Mavi Marmara, was sponsored by an Islamic aid group from Turkey, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. Israel outlawed the group, known by its Turkish acronym IHH, in 2008 because of alleged ties to Hamas. The group is not on the U.S. State Department list of terror organizations, however.
By contrast, the Rachel Corrie – loaded with wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement – had just 11 passengers and was mainly sponsored by the Free Gaza movement, a Cyprus-based group that has renounced violence.
Palmor said the cargo would be inspected in Ashdod and permitted goods could be transferred to Gaza. The import of cement has been sharply restricted, but Palmor said some could be sent to the territory in coordination with the U.N.
Hamas has said it would refuse to accept any aid from the Israeli-intercepted flotilla as long as the blockade remained in place.
Associated Press Writers Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
Written by Free Gaza team | 05 June 2010
Posted in Press releases
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For More Information, please contact:
Free Gaza Cyprus: Greta Berlin or Mary Hughes
Free Gaza Ireland: Niamh Moloughney
Perdana Global Peace Organisation, Malaysia: Ram Karthigasu
(Off the Gaza coast, 5 JUNE) – Just before 9am GMT this morning, the Israeli military forcibly siezed the Irish-owned humanitarian relief ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, from delivering over 1000 tons of medical and construction supplies to besieged Gaza. For the second time in less then a week, Israeli naval commandos stormed an unarmed aid ship, brutally taking its passengers hostage and towing the ship toward Ashdod port in Southern Israel. It is not yet known whether any of the Rachel Corrie’s passengers were killed or injured during the attack, but they are believed to be unharmed.
The Corrie carried 11 passengers and 9 crew from 5 different countires, mostly Ireland and Malaysia. The passengers included Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, Parit Member of the Malaysian Parliament Mohd Nizar Zakaria, and former UN Assistant Secretary General, Denis Halliday. Nine international human rights workers were killed on Monday when Israeli commandos violently stormed the Turkish aid ship, Mavi Marmara and five other unarmed boats taking supplies to Gaza. Prior to being taken hostage by Israeli forces, Derek Graham, an Irish coordinator with the Free Gaza Movement, stated that: “Despite what happened on the Mavi Marmara earlier this week, we are not afraid.
The 1200-ton cargo ship was purchased through a special fund set up by former Malaysian Prime Minister and Perdana Global Peace Organisation (PGPO) chairman Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. The ship was named after an American human rights worker, killed in 2003 when she was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. Its cargo included hundreds of tons of medical equipment and cement, as well as paper from the people of Norway, donated to UN-run schools in Gaza.
According to Denis Halliday: “We are the only Gaza-bound aid ship left out here. We’re determined to deliver our cargo.” The Rachel Corrie had been part of the Freedom Flotilla, a 40-nation effort to break through Israel’s illegal blockade, before being forced to drop off late last week due to suspicious mechanical problems.
The attack on the Rachel Corrie may spell trouble for Israel’s relationship with Ireland. The Irish government had formally requested Israel allow the ship to reach Gaza. On 1 June, the Irish parliament also passed an all-party motion condemning Israel’s use of military force against civilian aid ships, and demanding “an end to the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza.”
Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire summed up the hopes of this joint Irish-Malaysian effort to overcome Israel’s cruel blockade by saying: “We are inspired by the people of Gaza whose courage, love and joy in welcoming us, even in the midst of such suffering gives us all hope. They represent the very best of humanity, and we are all privileged to be given the opportunity to support them in their nonviolent struggle for human dignity, and freedom. This trip will again highlight Israel’s criminal blockade and illegal occupation. In a demonstration of the power of global citizen action, we hope to awaken the conscience of all.”
Passengers aboard the Rachel Corrie include:
Ahmed Faizal bin Azumu, human rights worker, Malaysia
Matthias Chang, attorney, author & human rights worker, Malaysia
Derek Graham, Free Gaza Ireland
Jenny Graham, Free Gaza Ireland
Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary General, Ireland
Mohd Jufri Bin Mohd Judin, journalist, Malaysia
Shamsul Akmar Musa Kamal, PGPO representative, Malaysia
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ireland
Abdul Halim Bin Mohamed, journalist, Malaysia
Fiona Thompson, film-maker, Ireland
The Hon. Mohd Nizar Zakaria, Parit Member of Parliament, Malaysia
Written by Free Gaza team | 05 June 2010
Posted in Press releases
Press Release – Wed 5th June, 3.30am
On hearing of the news, Freda Hughes of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) said: “We all hope that those on board the Rachel Corrie will remain safe and that there will be no repeat of Monday’s terrible attack on the Freedom Flotilla. Our hearts are with you.”
Israel tailing new Gaza aid ship
Israeli commandos stormed another aid ship five days earlier killing nine activists [Reuters]
Israeli war ships are “shadowing” a Malaysian-funded Irish aid ship headed towards Gaza, activists on board have said.
The MV Rachel Corrie’s radar was reportedly jammed as the ship sailed closer to restricted waters off the Gaza Strip early on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the campaign group supporting the ship said.
Activists aboard Rachel Corrie are attempting to break the siege of Gaza imposed by Israel, five days after Israeli troops violently intercepted a flotilla of aid ships carrying humanitarian aid for the territory, killing nine activists.
Shortly after 5am Israel time, Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza movement that sent the 1,200-tonne Rachel Corrie said the ship was 56km from Gaza’s shores.
“There were two warships in the back of them … and a smaller boat was approaching,” Berlin said from the movement’s headquarters in Cyprus, citing a passenger on board.
The Malaysian-funded ship is carrying 11 activists, including Mairead Corrigan, a Nobel Peace laureate, Denis Halliday, an Irish former senior official at the United Nations, and eight crew members.
The activists say they are determined to continue sailing to Gaza with their cargo of medical and construction supplies.
But Israel says it will not allow the ship into Gaza, and has urged it to sail to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
Those on the ship have said they will offer no resistance if Israeli forces decide to board the vessel.
The Rachel Corrie is funded by Perdana Global Peace Organisation, a Malaysian non-governmental organisation headed by Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s former prime minister.
“The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed. For now, we call on all parties to join us in encouraging responsible decisions by all sides to avoid any unnecessary confrontations”
Mike Hammer, White House national security council spokesman
Meanwhile in Washington the US said Israel’s blockade on Gaza was unsustainable and urged Rachel Corrie to divert to an Israeli port to reduce the risk of violence.
“We are working urgently with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other international partners to develop new procedures for delivering more goods and assistance to Gaza,” Mike Hammer, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said.
“The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed. For now, we call on all parties to join us in encouraging responsible decisions by all sides to avoid any unnecessary confrontations,” Hammer said in a statement.
“It remains a US priority to provide assistance to the people of Gaza,” Hammer said.
“In the interest of the safety of all involved, and the safe transmission of assistance to the people of Gaza, we strongly encourage those on board the Rachel Corrie and other vessels to sail to Ashdod to deliver their materials to Gaza,” Hammer said, referring to the Israeli port.
4:39am UK, Saturday June 05, 2010
Dominic Waghorn, Middle East correspondent
Peace activists on board an aid ship heading for Gaza have been intercepted by Israeli forces, according to reports.
The Rachel Corrie set out with its crew determined to break Israel’s naval blockade.
Israel said it was equally determined to stop the vessel if it did not take up an offer to dock in the port of Ashdod.
The Rachel Corrie was meant to have travelled with the original six-ship convoy that Israeli commandoes intercepted this week in a botched operation that killed nine people.
The Irish-registered vessel was delayed by mechanical trouble which activists say they suspect was sabotage by Israel.
Israel says it has offered the Rachel Corrie free passage to Ashdod where the aid could be offloaded and transferred to Gaza.
Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Corrigan, who is on board, said earlier Israel had not yet contacted the ship and it would not accept its offer anyway.
However, she said the passengers will not resist Israeli forces should they choose to intercept them.
They would sit on the deck with their hands in the air, she said.
The ship is named after US peace activist Rachel Corrie who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer, accidentally says Israel, in Gaza in 2003.
It may not be the last aid boat to try and break the blockade which Israel says is justified because it is in a state of armed conflict with Hamas who control Gaza.
Groups in Turkey are said to be planning a new aid flotilla in the autumn.
By JPOST.COM STAFF
Ship willing to allow international inspection. Due in Gaza Sat. AM.
The statement said that, while the activists rejected Israel’s right to blockade Gaza, the activists “request and invite for an independent international body, preferably inspectors from the the United Nations to board the ship and do the necessary to certify as to the nature of the cargo on board. Currently the MV Rachel Corrie is 150 miles away from the 25 mile line of Gaza.”
The ship is reported to be about 100 miles from Gaza. The Maylasian NGO described it as a joint Irish-Maylaysian effort. The organization’s website describes its mission as to “oppose war and champion peace and global understanding.”
The ship is expected to close in on Gaza about 7 AM on Saturday morning. It’s the second attempt this week by the Free Gaza Movement to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza as well as its closure of that area’s land passages to all but humanitarian aid.
By Ashish Kumar Sen
Updated: 7:53 p.m. on Friday, June 4, 2010
The Obama administration on Friday urged pro-Palestinian activists attempting to break an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip to avoid another confrontation in the region, but those on board the Irish ship said they had no intention of abandoning their plans.
The MV Rachel Corrie, laden with purported humanitarian supplies, is set to arrive off the coast of Gaza on Saturday morning, setting up another showdown with Israel, which has warned the activists against trying to break its blockade of the territory.
Greta Berlin, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, which has organized the expedition, said the ship was about 120 miles off the coast of Gaza on Friday evening and was sailing through international waters at a speed of 9 mph.
“We expect the ship to reach Gaza by Saturday morning,” Ms. Berlin said in a phone interview with The Washington Times.
Israel has warned the activists that it will stop the Rachel Corrie if it tries to break the blockade and has asked the activists to unload their shipment in the Israeli port city of Ashdod, promising to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza over land.
National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer in a statement on Friday evening urged the Rachel Corrie to sail to Ashdod and avoid a confrontation with Israel.
“In the interest of the safety of all involved, and the safe transmission of assistance to the people of Gaza, we strongly encourage those on board the Rachel Corrie and other vessels to sail to Ashdod to deliver their materials to Gaza,” Mr. Hammer said. He said the U.S. was calling on all parties to join it in encouraging “responsible decisions by all sides to avoid any unnecessary confrontations and to ensure the safety of all involved.”
Mr. Hammer said the Israel government has “stated its desire to avoid a confrontation and a repeat of Monday’s tragic events on the Mavi Marmara,” He was referring to the Turkish ship on which Israeli troops were involved in a bloody confrontation earlier this week. Nine activists, including a U.S.-Turkish dual national, were killed in that incident.
Ms. Berlin said the Rachel Corrie had no intention of giving in to Israeli demands that it dock at Ashdod.
“We will never stop at Ashdod. There is absolutely no way,” Ms. Berlin said. “That will only happen if the Israelis force us to stop.”
She said there were no U.S. citizens aboard the Rachel Corrie, named for a U.S. peace activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 while trying to prevent a Palestinian home from being demolished.
Twelve U.S. citizens were on board the earlier flotilla of six activist ships that attempted to break the blockade earlier in the week.
Another U.S. citizen on one of the ships was injured. A third was injured during a subsequent protest.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said this week the Obama administration was in constant contact with the Israeli government and was attempting to obtain more information about U.S. citizens.
She said the U.S. had taken “no decisions at this point on any additional specific actions that our government should take with respect to our own citizens.”
Mrs. Clinton said the U.S. was “evaluating ways of expanding the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza while protecting Israels legitimate security interests.”
Mr. Hammer said the Obama administration was working urgently with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other international partners to develop “new procedures for delivering more goods and assistance to Gaza, while also increasing opportunity for the people of Gaza and preventing the importation of weapons.”
“The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed,” he said.
Ms. Berlin said the Rachel Corrie was carrying cement to build homes, paper and stationery for Palestinian children, and sports equipment. “These are all things the kids of Gaza can’t get,” she said.
Israel says shipments provided to the territory ruled by Hamas will only further strengthen the Islamic militant group.
The U.N. Security Council has called for an investigation into the Israeli raid on the flotilla, saying it “deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation.”
According to some reports from the region, the pro-Palestinian activists had sought a U.N. escort for the Rachel Corrie.
Ms. Berlin said such an escort was “not a bad idea.”
A former U.N. assistant secretary-general, Denis Halliday, is on board the ship, but it was not known whether he had made a request.
Efforts to contact Mr. Halliday were unsuccessful.
Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, who is also on board the ship, told Ireland’s RTE state radio, “We started out to deliver this cargo to the people of Gaza and to break the siege of Gaza, that is what we want to do.”
Mr. Hammer said it remains a U.S. priority to provide assistance to the people of Gaza.
June 4, 2010 By The Gaza Flotilla archive
Irish government offers MV Rachel Corrie ship to divert to Israeli port of Ashdod instead of Gaza; Foreign Ministry: Israel doesn’t want a confrontation with the Gaza-bound ship.
By Barak Ravid and Haaretz Service
Passengers on board the MV Rachel Corrie ship have rejected a proposed agreement made between the Israeli and Irish governments to divert the ship to the Israeli port of Ashdod instead of the coast of Gaza.
Following the passengers’ rejection of the agreement, the forum of seven high ranking ministers decided to go ahead with the plan to stop the ship and take it over, as was done with the previous Gaza flotilla.
Over the last few days the Foreign Ministry has been trying to come to a diplomatic solution with the organizers of the ship, under the Irish government’s mediation.
During negotiations, the ship’s passengers emphasized that they were willing to undergo a security check by the Israel Defense Forces in the ocean to verify there were no weapons on the ship, but demanded they then be allowed to pass to the coast of Gaza.
Israel refused, and demanded the security check take place in the Ashdod port and that the ship’s cargo would be transferred from there to the Gaza Strip, under the supervision of passengers and Irish diplomats.
Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin, issued a statement on Friday on the failed agreement.
“On Friday morning, an understanding was reached with the Israeli government whereby the Rachel Corrie would have approached the Israeli exclusion zone before accepting diversion to the Israeli port of Ashdod. At Ashdod, the cargo would have been unloaded and inspected under the supervision of UN and officials from the Irish Aid Division of my Department.
“The entire cargo, including what is understood to be 550 tonnes of cement, would then have been transported to Gaza. Two persons from the Rachel Corrie would have been permitted to accompany the cargo to the Israeli border crossing into Gaza at Erez.
“In my view, such an arrangement would have offered a useful precedent for future humanitarian shipments, pending the complete lifting of the blockade,” he said.
Martin then said that those on board the MV Rachel Corrie, “after careful consideration,” rejected the agreement, and emphasized that he “fully respects their right to do so and to continue their protest action by seeking to sail to Gaza.”
He also called on Israel to refrain from using force on the passengers of the Rachel Corrie ship.
“If, as is their stated intention, the Israeli government intercepts the Rachel Corrie, the Government demands that it demonstrate every restraint. Those on board the Rachel Corrie have made clear their peaceful intentions and have stated that they will offer no resistance to Israeli forces. Based on these assurances, there can be no justification for the use of force against any person on board the Rachel Corrie.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Friday emphasizing that Israel does not want a confrontation with the Gaza-bound ship the MV Rachel Corrie.
“We have no desire for a confrontation. We have no desire to board the ship. If the ship decides to sail the port of Ashdod, then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it,” said the Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal.
The MV Rachel Corrie is headed directly for the Gaza Strip with hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid and is expected reach Israel’s 20-mile exclusion zone within the next day, a spokesman for the pro-Palestinian group organizing the mission said on Friday.
“Israel is prepared to receive the ship and to offload its contents.After an inspection to ensure that no weapons and war materials are on board, we are prepared to deliver all of the goods to Gaza,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement read.
“Representative of the people on board and relevant NGOs are welcome to accompany the goods to the crossings. We will work with the UN and international organizations to ensure that all the goods are used for the benefit of the people of Gaza.”
The Foreign Ministry’s statement was issued following a discussion between the ministers of the forum of seven on Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. The statement seems to hint that Israel’s attempts at coming to a resolution with the ship’s passengers have reached a dead end.
According to a government source in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the foreign ministry’s director-general Yossi Gal to invite the foreign press and to issue the statement, in order to make Israel’s stance perfectly clear to the ship’s passengers and to the international community.
The MV Rachel Corrie had initially planned to reach the Gaza Strip sometime this week, despite an Israel Navy raid on the first six ships in the humanitarian aid convoy on Monday that left nine people dead and several more wounded.
Despite reports that the 1,200-ton ship was heading back to Ireland due to technical difficulties involving its two accompanying vessels, Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman Greta Berlin said the ship was on schedule and had no plans to stop in any port along the way.
Free Gaza’s legal adviser, Audrey Bomse, earlier Friday said that the ship was planning to return to Ireland in the coming days due to Israel’s “sabotage” of the two passenger boats meant to carry journalists. Bomse told Army Radio that the vessels sustained such serious technical damage while docked in Greece last weekend that they would not be able to sail for weeks.
Bomse was quoted by Army Radio on Friday as saying that the ship would only attempt to breach the Gaza blockade once accompanied by the two passenger vessels. She also said that the activists would refuse any diplomatic solution offered by Israel.
The legal adviser reportedly told Army Radio that her movement’s goal was not just to bring aid to Gaza, but to send a message to Israel. Activists would not stop sending these ship to Gaza until Israel agree to lift its blockade, the radio quoted Bomse as saying.
The Rachel Corrie’s trip to Gaza is sponsored by two non-governmental organizations, from Ireland and Malaysia. On board is Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and former United Nations deputy secretary-general Denis Halliday. Also on board are Malaysians from a group sponsored by the former prime minister of Malaysia.
The ship was to have been part of the flotilla that was stopped at sea early Monday morning, but was delayed due to the technical problems. Its cargo includes cement and medical equipment such as a tomograph (CT ), as well as toys and printing paper.
33 minutes ago
JERUSALEM (AFP) – The Rachel Corrie activist cargo ship kept its course for a Saturday arrival in Gaza — or confrontation — as world anger simmered over Israel’s deadly raid on an earlier blockade-busting bid.
“We are not afraid,” Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire told Ireland’s RTE state radio by satellite phone from aboard the aid-laden ship on Friday.
“We started out to deliver this cargo to the people of Gaza and to break the siege of Gaza, that is what we want to do,” the 66-year-old said as the vessel steamed towards the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave.
The boat was just hours from Gaza but the 15 aboard — Irish and Malaysian activists, four Indonesian crew and a Scottish captain — did not intend to leave international waters and run the Israeli gauntlet until after daybreak Saturday, organisers said.
The activists have put Israel in a tight spot at a time when it already faces a serious diplomatic crisis over Monday’s botched raid in which its commandos killed nine Turkish activists in the Gaza-bound flotilla.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reiterated the Rachel Corrie would not be allowed to sail freely into Gaza.
“I have just told the Irish foreign ministry director general that the ship will not be able to travel to Gaza without first being inspected,” he said on television.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin urged Israel to show restraint, saying “the Rachel Corrie should be allowed to proceed to Gaza and to unload its humanitarian cargo.”
To make matters worse for Israel, three Spaniards who were with the Gaza aid fleet said there were plans to send more aid ships to the enclave.
“We spoke in Istanbul with the rest of our European colleagues about the possibility of sending ships to Gaza in the coming months, some of them possibly from Barcelona,” aid worker Manuel Tapial said.
Resentment ran high in Turkey, which sent more than half the almost 700 activists aboard the ill-fated six-ship convoy.
In a statement certain to infuriate Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he did not view Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
“Hamas are resistance fighters who are struggling to defend their land,” Erdogan said of the Islamist movement committed to Israel’s destruction and blacklisted in the West as a terrorist group.
In Istanbul, a crowd of some 10,000 people held prayers for a journalist among the nine Turks, one of them also a US citizen, killed in Monday’s raid.
Chants of “murderer Israel” echoed across the courtyard of the historic Beyazit Mosque, where a huge banner called for the Israeli embassy to be shut down.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said he would announce “serious measures” at an evening rally in Beirut.
Israel has warned it will stop the blockade-busting bid by Rachel Corrie — a 1,200-tonne cargo ship named after a US activist killed in 2003 as she tried to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from razing a Palestinian home.
On Friday, it reiterated its offer, already rejected by the organisers, to deliver the goods to Gaza overland if the ship unloads in the Israeli port of Ashdod.
“We are well warned from every source that the Israelis intend to stop us and to intercept us,” former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday told RTE radio from the ship.
“So we are prepared for the worst but hopeful that maybe an exception will happen, that Israel will get some good sense and give us a chance to take this cargo and get into Gaza,” said Halliday, who resigned from the United Nations in 1998 in protest at the impact of sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
The Israeli authorities and the activists had conflicting versions of what happened during Monday’s pre-dawn raid.
Israel has said the commandos only opened fire after they came under attack with clubs, knives, guns and other weapons.
Bulent Yildirim, head of the Islamic charity Foundation of Humanitarian Relief, which spearheaded the Gaza aid fleet, said activists used iron bars in self-defence after Israeli soldiers fired indiscriminately when they stormed the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara.
Serbian cameraman Srdjan Stojiljkovic said gunshots were heard and people on the boat, who were unarmed, grabbed one of the soldiers, disarmed him and took him below the deck.
“People were falling down covered in blood, others were screaming as they were hit by bullets,” said Stojiljkovic, adding that he had filmed the scenes, but the Israelis “took everything but documents” from activists and journalists.
Israel will stop boat from reaching Gaza -minister
Fri Jun 4, 2010 6:30pm BST
JERUSALEM June 4 (Reuters) – Israel will stop another boat carrying aid and activists from penetrating its blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Friday.
Israel, facing an international outcry over its naval operation on Monday in which nine Turkish activists were killed on a ship bound for Gaza, has vowed to prevent the vessel Rachel Corrie from reaching the Gaza coast.
“We will stop the ship, and also any other ship that will try to harm Israeli sovereignty. There is no chance the Rachel Corrie will reach the coast of Gaza,” Lieberman said on Israel’s Channel 1 television. (Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
Organisers blame sabotage as contact with Gaza-bound Rachel Corrie has been lost
* Published: 19:11 June 4, 2010
Occupied Jerusalem: Organisers of the Gaza flotilla said they lost contact with the Gaza-bound MV Rachel Corrie on Friday just as they are seeking to delay the latest bid to bust the embargo with an aid-laden ship.
The ship had been on course for arrival in the Palestinian enclave on Saturday, just five days after Israeli commandos killed nine activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in a botched raid that plunged Israel into a diplomatic crisis.
“The situation is we lost all contact with the boat. We assume this was sabotage by the Israelis,” said Audrey Bomse of the Free Gaza Movement.
It was now unclear whether the Irish and Malaysian activists aboard the ship would turn around or steam on towards the Hamas-run Gaza which is under a crippling blockade Israel says aims at halting Palestinian rocket fire.
Monday’s raid sparked worldwide outrage with more massive protests expected on Friday, particularly after weekly prayers in Muslim countries.
In Kuala Lumpur, some 5,000 Malaysians rallied outside the US embassy where the Israeli flag was burned.
Some demonstrators burned the Israeli flag while others brandished posters that said “Destroy America, Destroy Israel – Long Live Islam” and “Allah will destroy you Israel”.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah called for a mass rally in Beirut on Friday evening where he said he would announce “serious measures”.
In Occupied Jerusalem, police restricted access to the flashpoint Al Aqsa mosque compound and deployed in force in and around the Old City.
Angry anti-Israel protests have been staged across the Middle East and in major cities since Monday’s deadly raid, with vast crowds taking to the streets to demand an end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
A massive rally was staged on Thursday in Turkey – a key Israeli ally – whose activists played a major role in the six-ship flotilla and whose president warned that ties with Israel “will never be the same” after the attack.
Turkey sent two medical planes to Israel early Friday to bring back five of its nationals wounded during the assault on the flotilla in which eight Turks and a US national of Turkish origin were killed, the Anatolia news agency said.
Israel has warned it also will stop the blockade-busting bid by Rachel Corrie – a 1,200 tonne cargo ship named after a US activist killed in 2003 as she tried to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from razing a Palestinian home.
“As a result of these threats, we’re going to pull Rachel Corrie into a port, add more high-profile people on board, and insist that journalists from around the world also come with us,” the Free Gaza movement said.
But Bomse later said the decision couldn’t be communicated to those aboard the vessel, who include Irish Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire, 66.
“We’re hoping communications get turned back on so we can inform them of the decision,” Bomse told AFP.
On Thursday afternoon, organisers said the Rachel Corrie was about 250 miles (400 kilometres) from the spot in international waters the six boats were boarded on Monday.
Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has said that the ship must be allowed to reach Gaza and warned of “the most serious consequences” if Irish citizens are injured.
The US administration has so far refused to explicitly single out the Israeli government for blame.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will ask President Barack Obama to make “bold decisions” on Middle East peace when the two meet in Washington on Wednesday. He will first travel to Turkey to pay his condolences.
Irish aid boat ‘will break Gaza blockade’
Fri, 04 Jun 2010 22:46
DUBLIN: An Irish aid boat steaming towards Gaza still plans to break the Israeli blockade, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who is on board vowed today, saying its passengers and crew “are not afraid”.
The MV Rachel Corrie should be within 40 kilometres of the coast of the Palestinian territory by early tomorrow, Mairead Maguire told Ireland’s RTE state radio.
“We don’t have contact with the Israelis and the Israelis haven’t contacted anyone on board this boat, but we are all fully committed to sailing the boat to Gaza,” she said by satellite phone.
“We do know that one of the suggestions that seems to be coming is Israel thinks that we would take this boat and its cargo to Ashdod. But we have no intention of going to Ashdod which is in Israel.
“We started out to deliver this cargo to the people of Gaza and to break the siege of Gaza, that is what we want to do.”
Maguire said they would regard as “satisfactory” suggestions that the vessel is checked by the UN or an independent investigator to verify there is no dangerous cargo abroad.
“But we are not prepared to allow Israel to do this. Our cargo was inspected by officials from the Irish government, by trade union officials in Dundalk (a port in NE Ireland) and officials of the Green Party.
“Then the cargo was sealed, totally sealed. We don’t have anything but humanitarian aid,” she added, saying the 11 activists on board were “totally committed” to going to Gaza.
“We are not afraid,” she said.
Maguire, 66, believes the 1.5 million people of Gaza, with 30% under the age of 18, have been living under a “cruel siege”.
“It is collective punishment by the Israelis government. It is breaking international laws and human rights. Our concern is to try to open up the people of Gaza to the world,” she said.
Maguire, who won the 1976 Nobel prize as co-founder of a peace movement in long-troubled Northern Ireland, has travelled many times to the Palestinian territories, said the Irish group.