In a gesture of goodwill to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved the rare transfer of large amounts of cement, shoes and clothing to the Gaza Strip, defense officials said on Saturday.
According to the officials, Barak approved the move in late March, around the time that he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Washington and Ban traveled to Gaza.
The supplies will cross into the Strip over the coming week via Kerem Shalom, the main crossing used by Israel to the southern Gaza Strip. Officials said that some of the cement would go toward the renovations being carried out at a UN-run sewage plant in the central Strip.
Despite the transfer of the supplies, some of which have not been allowed into Gaza since Operation Cast Lead last winter, officials said that Israel’s policy remained the same and that as long as St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit was being held in Gaza it would not approve the transfer of large shipments.
“Hamas is a terrorist organization that is holding Gilad Schalit, and as long as he is held there and Hamas continues to engage in anti-Israel terrorist activity there will not be a change to our policy,” one official said.
Also on Saturday, the Free Gaza Movement announced that it had purchased a massive 1,200-ton cargo ship that it plans to load with humanitarian supplies and send to the Strip next month.
The vessel was bought at auction in Dundalk, Ireland. Free Gaza has been behind a number of smaller ships that in some cases in recent years succeeded in breaking Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and docking there with international activists and supplies. The last two ships were stopped by the Israel Navy. The Free Gaza Movement owns four ships including three passenger vessels.
The cargo ship will head to Gaza as part of an international flotilla planning to set sail in May carrying 500 tons of cement, drugs, medical equipment and educational materials. Passenger and cargo ships, the movement said, were also being organized by the Turkish humanitarian organization I.H.H., and by groups in Greece, Sweden, Malaysia and Belgium.
“We have international law and the conscience of the people of the
world on our side. We know the Irish people will not stand by and let
the people of Gaza be starved and punished by Israel any longer,” said
Derek Graham of the Free Gaza Movement.
The new cargo ship, called the MV Linda
, will be
renamed the MV Rachel Corrie
, in memory of the
23-year-old International Solidarity Movement activist who was crushed
to death by an IDF bulldozer in 2003 in Gaza.
Defense Ministry officials said that they were aware of the Free Gaza
Movement’s plans and consult with the IDF and the Foreign Ministry over
whether to intercept it or allow it to dock in Gaza. One official
raised the possibility that the ship would be forced to dock in Ashdod,
where the cargo would be unloaded and searched, and if found to be of a
humanitarian nature, sent to Gaza via land crossings.