Rachel Corrie 311.
(photo credit: IDF)
establishment is considering allowing future aid ships to sail into the
Gaza Strip after their crews first agree to dock in Ashdod Port and
undergo a military inspection to ensure that they are not carrying
weaponry, officials said Saturday night.“We are putting Mr.
Netanyahu on notice that we are returning in the
next couple of months with another flotilla, that his actions and the
actions of his soldiers have energized thousands of people who have
stepped forward with offers to help and participate on the next
voyage,” the movement said in a statement.
The idea was one of
several being “floated around” as Israel searches for a new policy to
handle future flotillas in the wake of the international criticism it
has been facing since Monday’s takeover of the Mavi Marmara. Commandos from the navy’s Flotilla 13 –
known as the Shayetet – came under attack from a group of mercenaries
aboard the ship and killed nine of them.
Israel may allow future aid ships into Gaza after inspection
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Senior diplomatic sources said Saturday night that
“nothing has been
decided” but “there are a lot of ideas out there.” At the same time,
one official said, the principle that Israel will not allow unchecked
cargo into the Gaza Strip will not change.
He stressed that Israel has no problem letting civilian materials into
Gaza, including cement – if they are intended for a clearly earmarked
humanitarian project, and are monitored by an international agency.
Israel, the official said, was “willing to explore new ideas,” but at
the same time was intent on keeping the naval blockade in place.
Rachel Corrie boarded with no violence
On Saturday, commandos boarded the MV
cargo ship as it made its way to the Gaza Strip in an attempt to break
the Israel-imposed sea blockade. Navy forces then piloted the ship into
Ashdod Port where its cargo will be unloaded and allowed, after
inspection, to cross by land into the Gaza Strip.
The boarding took place without any violence and was carried out by sea
and not by helicopters, like on Monday. Passengers aboard the Rachel Corrie
– named for an American activist killed by an IDF bulldozer in the Gaza
Strip in 2003 – even, according to the IDF, threw the boarding soldiers
a rope off the side of the vessel.
Prior to the takeover, three navy ships tailed the aid boat for several
hours throughout the morning, a few dozen kilometers from the blockaded
Strip. The army said it had contacted the boat four times and urged its
passengers to divert to Ashdod, but that the passengers had refused.
Eleven passengers were aboard the Rachel
Corrie, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and
Denis Halliday, a former United Nations assistant secretary-general.
The Rachel Corrie was carrying
20 tons of paper, 550 tons of cement, 100 tons of high-end medical
equipment including electric wheelchairs, hospital beds, a CAT scan
machine and dental equipment as well as fabric and thread.
Netanyahu: We respect the right to express different opinions
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, was updated throughout
the day on Saturday about the situation with the boat. He issued a
statement after the boat was brought into the Ashdod Port, saying that
“we saw today the difference between a boat with peace activists, with
whom we do not agree but whose right to express their different
opinions we respect, and a boat of hate organized by violent extremists
and terrorist supporters.”
Netanyahu said that Israel operated in the same way with each of the
different boats in order to implement the naval blockade to prevent the
smuggling of arms to Hamas and to enable civilian goods to be brought
into Gaza after being checked. He said that Israel would continue to
maintain its right to self-defense and “not allow the establishment of
an Iranian port in Gaza.”
The Free Gaza movement, which organized the flotilla, announced
Saturday that it planned to send additional ships to break the blockade
in the coming months.
The navy is also concerned that the Turkish government, which is
suspected of support and involvement in the flotilla, will dispatch its
navy to accompany future aid ships to the Gaza Strip.
“This is an event of diplomatic significance,” a top defense official
Irish FM offers plan for delivering aid to Gaza
Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin, meanwhile, issued a statement
Friday saying that an understanding with Israel was reached whereby the
Rachel Corrie would have
approached Israel’s “exclusion zone” before being diverted to Ashdod.
Under the plan, Martin said, “the cargo would have been unloaded and
inspected under the supervision of the UN and officials from the Irish
Aid Division of my department. The entire cargo, including what is
understood to be 550 tons 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.”
Martin said that the arrangement would have “offered a useful precedent
for future humanitarian shipments, pending the complete lifting of the
blockade.” It was, however, turned down by those on the boat.