The navy is gearing up for the possible interception over the weekend
of the MV Rachel Corrie protest ship, as Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was considering letting
more goods into Gaza.
Late on Thursday night, the septet forum
of senior cabinet ministers met to debate what could be the first major
change to the Gaza border restrictions that Israel imposed in 2007
after Hamas’s violent coup.
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In spite of media reports to the contrary, Netanyahu has resisted international pressure to lift the naval blockade of Gaza.
in a public address on Wednesday night and in private conversations
with foreign diplomats, the prime minister insisted that Israel has a
right to inspect all cargo heading to Gaza to prevent the smuggling of
weapons, equipment and supplies that support Hamas.
In a meeting
with Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, Netanyahu said Israel had an
obligation to defend its citizens, but that it was important that
non-military supplies reached the people of Gaza.
“Therefore we are exploring different options to achieve this objective,” he said.
in the past few months has increased the volume of goods entering Gaza
by 20 percent and allowed more types of items into the Strip.
under pressure from the US, Netanyahu is now willing to reconsider his
policy of closing the Gaza land passages to all but humanitarian
The move comes amid a storm of international criticism
leveled against Israel in the aftermath of Monday’s IDF raid on a
Gaza-bound flotilla in which nine people were killed.
path to Gaza would remain the same. Ships would not be allowed to dock
in Gaza and would instead be diverted, as they are now, to Ashdod.
the cargo would be inspected and then sent to Gaza by land, as is
presently done. The new policy, if approved, would increase the variety
and amount of goods.
The forum is also expected to debate the
best way to deal with the ships, such as this week’s flotilla, which
activists have been sending toward Gaza in hopes of breaking the
The navy still plans to board the next ship, which is on its way from Ireland, called the Rachel Corrie.
to navy sources, the operation would be carried out by commandos from
Flotilla 13 – also known as the Shayetet – some of whom participated in
the highly criticized takeover of the Mavi Marmara
The navy’s plan is expected to be quite
similar to that which it used when it took control of six ships on
Monday that were making their way to Gaza City’s port.
sources said it was possible that activists aboard the MV
Rachel Corrie would voluntarily sail to Ashdod Port, as they
will be called upon to do before they would be boarded by the commandos.
There have been conversations this week between Israel and the Irish government about the Ashdod plan.
Shayetet came under criticism this week after on Monday morning,
commandos killed nine activists who attacked them aboard the Turkish
passenger ship Mavi Marmara. The commandos rappelled
onto the vessel’s upper deck into a well-planned ambush by Turkish men
armed with bats, knives and metal bars.
Despite the navy’s
insistence that the MV Rachel Corrie’s arrival was
imminent, activists said the ship had docked in a location they did not
want to reveal and would not be near the embargoed waters this weekend,
a spokesman for the Free Gaza movement said on Thursday.
spokesman said the vessel had docked on Thursday in order to install
security broadcast equipment. The spokesman added that the ship would
set sail in a week and would head straight for Gaza.
MV Rachel Corrie is named for the American
International Solidarity Movement activist killed when she was run over
by an IDF bulldozer in the southern Gaza Strip in 2003.
is a rather decrepit, shallow-hulled trading vessel meant for trade
between locations on the same continent or island. Before it docked on
Thursday, it was about 400 nautical miles from the Gaza Strip and
progressing at a relatively slow pace of some 200 nautical miles a day,
putting it on course to reach the blockade area by Friday afternoon.
Kysia, an organizer in the Free Gaza Movement’s Washington, DC, office,
told The Jerusalem Post that activists on the
MV Rachel Corrie were “very concerned” following
Monday’s deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara, but that
they felt that “as international activists the risks we face are
minuscule compared to the what Palestinians face on a daily basis.”
asked if the activists would try to break the blockade or would agree
to a compromise that would allow them to unload the cargo under Israeli
supervision, Kysia said, “We don’t recognize Israel’s authority to
impose a blockade on the Gaza Strip or to impose their power on the
Gaza Strip,” adding that the organization didn’t want to be accomplices
to Israel’s policy of “putting Palestinians on a diet.”
denied that the Free Gaza Movement was ignoring Egypt’s sealing of its
border with the Gaza Strip, saying, “We absolutely take issue with the
closure of the Egyptian border. We want the [Gaza] border opened on all
three sides and we fight it on all three sides.”
He also referred to Egypt as “a dictatorship completely complicit with this blockade, and they must be condemned for this.”
referred to allegations that the Turkish charity that took a large role
in the flotilla, the IHH, has links to jihadist groups as “Israeli
“Just because someone is Muslim or Turkish doesn’t mean that they are a terrorist,” he said.
allegations against the IHH were originally made in 2006, when a report
issued by the Danish Institute for International Studies stated that
during the 1990s the organizations maintained links with al-Qaida and a
number of “global jihad networks.”
The report also said that the
Turkish government opened an investigation into the IHH starting in
December 1997, after receiving intelligence that the IHH bought
automatic weapons from Islamic radicals.
In response, Kysia said, “There’s lots of things that are written on the Internet.”
to him, regardless of the loss of life on Monday, and despite the
threats of further loss of life in future confrontations with Israeli
forces, the Free Gaza Movement intends to send more flotillas to Gaza
until the embargo is lifted.
“If Israel intended to intimidate
us or the world by using armed weapons against a humanitarian ship,
they failed. We will go to Gaza again and again and we won’t stop until
the siege is lifted.”
The Office of the Coordinator of
Government Activities in the Territories continued on Thursday to
unload the supplies carried by the flotilla that was stopped this week,
to transfer it to the Gaza Strip.
By the afternoon, more than 30
trucks had been loaded with clothes, blankets, schoolbags, baby car
seats, mattresses and assorted medical equipment such as wheelchairs
and hospital beds.
Some of the medicine that was brought by the flotilla had already
expired and the IDF had also discovered clothes that could be used to
make guerrilla uniforms aboard the ships.
Meanwhile, four Kassam rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza Thursday night. No injuries or damage were reported.
Two rockets landed in an open field near Ashkelon, another near a
kibbutz in the Ashkelon coast region and a fourth near Sderot.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories wishes to
deny a claim by Hamas that was reported in The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday that the IDF removed batteries from electric
wheelchairs that were brought to Israel aboard the Gaza flotilla,
Ron Friedman writes. COGAT has clarified that the
wheelchairs are waiting to be transferred into the Gaza Strip at the
Kerem Shalom Crossing with their batteries inside.