Israel may allow future aid ships into Gaza after inspection
Commandos stop ‘Rachel Corrie’ peacefully.
By YAAKOV KATZ, HERB KEINONThe defense 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.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.RELATED:Israel may allow future aid ships into Gaza after inspectionErdogan plans to sail to GazaSenior diplomatic sources said Saturday night that “nothing has beendecided” but “there are a lot of ideas out there.” At the same time,one official said, the principle that Israel will not allow uncheckedcargo into the Gaza Strip will not change.He stressed that Israel has no problem letting civilian materials intoGaza, including cement – if they are intended for a clearly earmarkedhumanitarian project, and are monitored by an international agency.Israel, the official said, was “willing to explore new ideas,” but atthe same time was intent on keeping the naval blockade in place.Rachel Corrie boarded with no violenceOn Saturday, commandos boarded the MV Rachel Corriecargo ship as it made its way to the Gaza Strip in an attempt to breakthe Israel-imposed sea blockade. Navy forces then piloted the ship intoAshdod Port where its cargo will be unloaded and allowed, afterinspection, to cross by land into the Gaza Strip.The boarding took place without any violence and was carried out by seaand not by helicopters, like on Monday. Passengers aboard the Rachel Corrie– named for an American activist killed by an IDF bulldozer in the GazaStrip in 2003 – even, according to the IDF, threw the boarding soldiersa rope off the side of the vessel.AdvertisementPrior to the takeover, three navy ships tailed the aid boat for severalhours throughout the morning, a few dozen kilometers from the blockadedStrip. The army said it had contacted the boat four times and urged itspassengers 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 carrying20 tons of paper, 550 tons of cement, 100 tons of high-end medicalequipment including electric wheelchairs, hospital beds, a CAT scanmachine and dental equipment as well as fabric and thread.Netanyahu: We respect the right to express different opinionsPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, was updated throughoutthe day on Saturday about the situation with the boat. He issued astatement after the boat was brought into the Ashdod Port, saying that“we saw today the difference between a boat with peace activists, withwhom we do not agree but whose right to express their differentopinions we respect, and a boat of hate organized by violent extremistsand terrorist supporters.”Netanyahu said that Israel operated in the same way with each of thedifferent boats in order to implement the naval blockade to prevent thesmuggling of arms to Hamas and to enable civilian goods to be broughtinto Gaza after being checked. He said that Israel would continue tomaintain its right to self-defense and “not allow the establishment ofan Iranian port in Gaza.”The Free Gaza movement, which organized the flotilla, announcedSaturday that it planned to send additional ships to break the blockadein the coming months.“We are putting Mr. Netanyahu on notice that we are returning in thenext couple of months with another flotilla, that his actions and theactions of his soldiers have energized thousands of people who havestepped forward with offers to help and participate on the nextvoyage,” the movement said in a statement.The navy is also concerned that the Turkish government, which issuspected of support and involvement in the flotilla, will dispatch itsnavy to accompany future aid ships to the Gaza Strip.“This is an event of diplomatic significance,” a top defense official said.Irish FM offers plan for delivering aid to Gaza Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin, meanwhile, issued a statementFriday saying that an understanding with Israel was reached whereby theRachel Corrie would have approached Israel’s “exclusion zone” before being diverted to Ashdod.Under the plan, Martin said, “the cargo would have been unloaded andinspected under the supervision of the UN and officials from the IrishAid Division of my department. The entire cargo, including what isunderstood to be 550 tons of cement, would then have been transportedto 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 precedentfor future humanitarian shipments, pending the complete lifting of theblockade.” It was, however, turned down by those on the boat.
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