'Rachel Corrie' boarded, no one hurt.

By JPOST.COM STAFF
June 5, 2010 06:08

Reported on Twitter at about 5:50 am. Three navy boats involved. Passengers under arrest. Reports awaiting confirmation.




Palestinian flags wave in Gaza port, foreground, a

Gaza Flotilla 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

At about 5:50 am on Saturday, the first reports came in over Twitter that the 'Rachel Corrie' had been boarded close to Gaza.  Earlier the activists reported that their radar had been jammed, however their Twitter accounts continued to operate.

The activists reported that three boats were following them for about twenty minutes and then that they had been boarded. 

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The passengers are said to be under arrest.

A couple of hours before the ship was seized, a Malaysian NGO which was co-sponsoring the ship, "Perdana Global Peace Organization" stated on its website that the ship's passengers had agreed to let an international force search the ship, before it proceeded to Gaza.  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."

The Malaysian NGO described the ship as a joint Irish-Malaysian effort.  The organization's website describes its mission as to "oppose war and champion peace and global understanding."

Before the ship made its offer, Irish Foreign Minister, Dr. Michael Martin reached an agreement with Israel, whereby the Rachel Corrie would proceed to Ashdod where its contents would be checked, unloaded and then shipped to Gaza under observation of representatives of the activists, the UN and the Irish government.  The activists rejected this offer, insisting on breaking the Israeli blockade. They did however give assurances that they would not resist the IDF, should it decide to board the ship.  The White House later expressed support for the agreement and called on the ship to dock at Ashdod.

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Blundering into harm's way


On Monday morning, nine activists were killed during an IDF sea raid of the Free Gaza Movement's flotilla of six ships which had wanted to reach the Gaza shore.

The cabinet agreed that Israel must maintain the naval blockade of Gaza so that it could prevent Iran and terrorists groups such as Hizbullah from sending weapons to Hamas.

As the navy prepared to intercept the ship, Netanyahu instructed it not to harm the activists.

The Foreign Ministry said it hoped the activists on board would reconsider their position.

"We have no desire for a confrontation," said Spokesman Gal. "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," he said.

"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," Gal said.

"Representative of the people on board and relevant NGOs are welcome to accompany the goods to the crossings," he said.

Free Gaza co-founder: We won't cede to Israel's request

Greta Berlin, a co-founder of the Free Gaza movement, said those on board the ship had no intention of ceding to Israel's request. Nor, she said, were they impressed by Netanyahu's statements Thursday to UN Middle East envoy Tony Blair, in which he promised to increase the amount and variety of goods which could enter Gaza by land.

"We do not trust Israel anymore," said Berlin.

"Our mission is to break the blockade of Gaza," she told The Jerusalem Post. Unlike the six ship flotilla which had close to 700 people, the Rachel Corrie, she said, had only 20 people on board. These people are all non-violent, she added.

The Foreign Ministry in Ireland said it had been in touch with the Israeli government regarding the rights of its citizens on board the ship, but did not elaborate.

In Washington, the State Department said US officials had been in touch with "multiple" countries, including the Israeli and Irish governments, about this latest effort to reach Gaza by boat.

"Everyone wants to avoid a repetition of [Monday's] tragic incident," spokesman P.J. Crowley said. He added that the US had been in contact numerous times with Israeli authorities in recent weeks. "We urged caution and restraint," he said.

International condemnation continued Friday, with protests in Syria, Greece, Bahrain and Malaysia, where some demonstrators burned Israeli flags and carried mock coffins. In Norway, the military canceled a seminar scheduled for later this month because an Israeli army officer was to have lectured.

Nobel laureate, former UN assistant head on board ship

Israel has allowed ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers in January 2009.

Israeli claims that went it intercepted Monday's flotilla of ships activists on one of them, the Marmara, ambushed the soldiers after they descended onto the board from helicopters. The military and Turkish TV have released videotape that backs up that claim. Returning activists admitted fighting with the Israeli commandos but insisted their actions were in self-defense because the ships were being boarded in international waters by a military force.

The Marmara, which was carrying hundreds of activists 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 Rachel Corrie is owned by the Free Gaza Movement. It set sail from Ireland. It is flying a Cambodian flag and is funded by money raised by a former prime minister of Malaysia. Among the passengers are two well known Irish citizens, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and Denis Halliday, a former UN assistant secretary-general. Also on board are  Malaysian journalists, a member of its parliament and a former political secretary.

AP contributed to this report.


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