Biden: Israel right to search ships

White House hints that time for new Gaza policy is near.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
June 3, 2010 06:50
1 minute read.
US Vice President Joe Biden.

biden 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Wednesday that it had warned Israel's government repeatedly to use "caution and restraint" with half a dozen aid boats bound for the Gaza Strip before Israeli commandos raided the flotilla this week in an operation that killed nine people.

In an interview with Charlie Rose broadcast Wednesday night, Vice President Joe Biden agreed that Israel had a right to inspect the cargo. "You can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not ... but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know — they're at war with Hamas — has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in," he said.

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At the same time, Biden acknowledged that the administration is trying to sway the Israeli government on the issue of Gaza, which has been under some form of an Israeli blockade for five years.

"We have put as much pressure and as much cajoling on Israel as we can to allow them to get building materials" and other designated humanitarian aid into Gaza, he said.

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, said that although lifting the blockade is out of the question, Israel shares the administration's goal of improving civilian life in the Gaza Strip. "We are open to the discussion of how best to reconcile the civilian needs of the people of Gaza with Israel's very real security needs," he said in an interview.

The administration's acknowledgment that it warned Israel against using excessive force comes as White House officials have been meeting with Israeli diplomats and security officials to discuss how the blockade might be altered to allow more aid to enter Gaza without risking Israeli security.

A White House official briefed on those meetings said there is "a general sense in the administration that it's time to change our Gaza policy," although he would not elaborate on how the administration might change the way it engages an area controlled by a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

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