Israel urges ship to divert course

Free Gaza founder says 'Rachel Corrie' won't cede to request.

gaza prepares for flotilla 311 (photo credit: AP)
gaza prepares for flotilla 311
(photo credit: AP)
In a last minute effort to avoid a naval raid on the Gaza bound ship Rachel Corrie, the Foreign Ministry Friday urged the activists on board to change course and head for the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The ship is expected to close in on Gaza Saturday morning. It's the second attempt this week by the Free Gaza Movement to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza as well as its closure of that area's land passages to all but humanitarian aid.
On Monday morning, nine activists were killed during an IDF sea raid of the Free Gaza Movement's flotilla of six ships which had wanted to reach the Gaza shore.
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"I want to once again deliver a message that has been delivered in both public and private channels to the Rachel Corrie ship heading toward Gaza," Foreign Ministry Director General Yossi Gal said in a statement he released to the press. 
He also held a short press conference for the foreign media to deliver the message on camera at the instruction of the septet forum of senior cabinet members which met late Thursday night.
The cabinet agreed that Israel must maintain the naval blockade of Gaza so that it could prevent Iran and terrorists groups such as Hizbullah from sending weapons to Hamas.
Israel's navy is prepared to intercept the ship and Netanyahu has instructed it not to harm the activists.
The Foreign Ministry said it hoped the activists on board would reconsider their position.
"We have no desire for a confrontation," said Gal. "We have no desire to board the ship. If the ship decides to sail the port of Ashdod, then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it," he said.
"Israel is prepared to receive the ship and to offload its contents. After an inspection to ensure that no weapons and war materials are on board, we are prepared to deliver all of the goods to Gaza," Gal said.
"Representative of the people on board and relevant NGOs are welcome to accompany the goods to the crossings," he said.
Free Gaza co-founder: We won't cede to Israel's request
Greta Berlin, a co-founder of the Free Gaza movement, said those on board the ship had no intention of ceding to Israel's request. Nor, she said, were they impressed by Netanyahu's statements Thursday to UN Middle East envoy Tony Blair, in which he promised to increase the amount and variety of goods which could enter Gaza by land.
"We do not trust Israel anymore," said Berlin.
"Our mission is to break the blockade of Gaza," she told The Jerusalem Post. Unlike the six ship flotilla which had close to 700 people, the Rachel Corrie, she said, had only 20 people on board. These people are all non-violent, she added.
The Foreign Ministry in Ireland said it had been in touch with the Israeli government regarding the rights of its citizens on board the ship, but did not elaborate.
In Washington, the State Department said US officials had been in touch with "multiple" countries, including the Israeli and Irish governments, about the latest effort to reach Gaza by boat.
"Everyone wants to avoid a repetition of [Monday's] tragic incident," spokesman P.J. Crowley said. He added that the US had been in contact numerous times with Israeli authorities in recent weeks. "We urged caution and restraint," he said.
International condemnation continued Friday, with protests in Syria, Greece, Bahrain and Malaysia, where some demonstrators burned Israeli flags and carried mock coffins. In Norway, the military canceled a seminar scheduled for later this month because an Israeli army officer was to have lectured.
Nobel laureate, former UN assistant head on board ship
Israel has allowed ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers in January 2009.
Israeli claims that went it intercepted Monday's flotilla of ships activists on one of them, the Marmara, ambushed the soldiers after they descended onto the board from helicopters. The military and Turkish TV have released videotape that backs up that claim. Returning activists admitted fighting with the Israeli commandos but insisted their actions were in self-defense because the ships were being boarded in international waters by a military force.
The Marmara, which was carrying hundreds of activists sponsored by an Islamic aid group from Turkey, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. Israel outlawed the group, known by its Turkish acronym IHH, in 2008 because of alleged ties to Hamas.
The Rachel Corrie is owned by the Free Gaza Movement. It set sail from Ireland. It is flying a Cambodian flag and is funded by money raised by a former prime minister of Malaysia. Among the passengers are two well known Irish citizens, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and Denis Halliday, a former UN assistant secretary-general. Also on board are  Malaysian journalists, a member of its parliament and a former political secretary.
AP contributed to this report.