PM may let more goods into Strip

Navy ready to block protest ship ‘Rachel Corrie’.

June 4, 2010 01:25
Palestinians ride boats in Gaza waters and an Isra

Gaza Boat 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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.

Both 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.

Israel 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.

But under pressure from the US, Netanyahu is now willing to reconsider his policy of closing the Gaza land passages to all but humanitarian supplies.

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.

The cargo 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.

There, 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 blockade.

The navy still plans to board the next ship, which is on its way from Ireland, called the Rachel Corrie.

According 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 this week.

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.

IDF 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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.

The ship 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.

Ramzi 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.”

When 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.”

Kysia 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.”

Kysia referred to allegations that the Turkish charity that took a large role in the flotilla, the IHH, has links to jihadist groups as “Israeli government propaganda.”

“Just because someone is Muslim or Turkish doesn’t mean that they are a terrorist,” he said.

The 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.”

According 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.

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