PM may let more goods into Strip

Navy ready to block protest ship ‘Rachel Corrie’.

Gaza Boat 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Gaza Boat 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The navy is gearing up for the possible interception over the weekendof the MV Rachel Corrie protest ship, as PrimeMinister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday he was considering lettingmore goods into Gaza.
Late on Thursday night, the septet forumof senior cabinet ministers met to debate what could be the first majorchange to the Gaza border restrictions that Israel imposed in 2007after 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.
Bothin a public address on Wednesday night and in private conversationswith foreign diplomats, the prime minister insisted that Israel has aright to inspect all cargo heading to Gaza to prevent the smuggling ofweapons, equipment and supplies that support Hamas.
In a meetingwith Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, Netanyahu said Israel had anobligation to defend its citizens, but that it was important thatnon-military supplies reached the people of Gaza.
“Therefore we are exploring different options to achieve this objective,” he said.
Israelin the past few months has increased the volume of goods entering Gazaby 20 percent and allowed more types of items into the Strip.
Butunder pressure from the US, Netanyahu is now willing to reconsider hispolicy of closing the Gaza land passages to all but humanitariansupplies.
The move comes amid a storm of international criticismleveled against Israel in the aftermath of Monday’s IDF raid on aGaza-bound flotilla in which nine people were killed.
The cargopath to Gaza would remain the same. Ships would not be allowed to dockin 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 ispresently done. The new policy, if approved, would increase the varietyand amount of goods.
The forum is also expected to debate thebest way to deal with the ships, such as this week’s flotilla, whichactivists have been sending toward Gaza in hopes of breaking theblockade.
The navy still plans to board the next ship, which is on its way from Ireland, called the Rachel Corrie.
Accordingto navy sources, the operation would be carried out by commandos fromFlotilla 13 – also known as the Shayetet – some of whom participated inthe highly criticized takeover of the Mavi Marmarathis week.
The navy’s plan is expected to be quitesimilar to that which it used when it took control of six ships onMonday that were making their way to Gaza City’s port.
IDFsources said it was possible that activists aboard the MVRachel Corrie would voluntarily sail to Ashdod Port, as theywill 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.
TheShayetet came under criticism this week after on Monday morning,commandos killed nine activists who attacked them aboard the Turkishpassenger ship Mavi Marmara. The commandos rappelledonto the vessel’s upper deck into a well-planned ambush by Turkish menarmed with bats, knives and metal bars.
Despite the navy’sinsistence that the MV Rachel Corrie’s arrival wasimminent, activists said the ship had docked in a location they did notwant to reveal and would not be near the embargoed waters this weekend,a spokesman for the Free Gaza movement said on Thursday.
Thespokesman said the vessel had docked on Thursday in order to installsecurity broadcast equipment. The spokesman added that the ship wouldset sail in a week and would head straight for Gaza.
TheMV Rachel Corrie is named for the AmericanInternational Solidarity Movement activist killed when she was run overby an IDF bulldozer in the southern Gaza Strip in 2003.
The shipis a rather decrepit, shallow-hulled trading vessel meant for tradebetween locations on the same continent or island. Before it docked onThursday, it was about 400 nautical miles from the Gaza Strip andprogressing at a relatively slow pace of some 200 nautical miles a day,putting it on course to reach the blockade area by Friday afternoon.
RamziKysia, an organizer in the Free Gaza Movement’s Washington, DC, office,told The Jerusalem Post that activists on theMV Rachel Corrie were “very concerned” followingMonday’s deadly raid on the Mavi Marmara, but thatthey felt that “as international activists the risks we face areminuscule compared to the what Palestinians face on a daily basis.”
Whenasked if the activists would try to break the blockade or would agreeto a compromise that would allow them to unload the cargo under Israelisupervision, Kysia said, “We don’t recognize Israel’s authority toimpose a blockade on the Gaza Strip or to impose their power on theGaza Strip,” adding that the organization didn’t want to be accomplicesto Israel’s policy of “putting Palestinians on a diet.”
Kysiadenied that the Free Gaza Movement was ignoring Egypt’s sealing of itsborder with the Gaza Strip, saying, “We absolutely take issue with theclosure of the Egyptian border. We want the [Gaza] border opened on allthree 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.”
Kysiareferred to allegations that the Turkish charity that took a large rolein the flotilla, the IHH, has links to jihadist groups as “Israeligovernment propaganda.”
“Just because someone is Muslim or Turkish doesn’t mean that they are a terrorist,” he said.
Theallegations against the IHH were originally made in 2006, when a reportissued by the Danish Institute for International Studies stated thatduring the 1990s the organizations maintained links with al-Qaida and anumber of “global jihad networks.”
The report also said that theTurkish government opened an investigation into the IHH starting inDecember 1997, after receiving intelligence that the IHH boughtautomatic weapons from Islamic radicals.
In response, Kysia said, “There’s lots of things that are written on the Internet.”
Accordingto him, regardless of the loss of life on Monday, and despite thethreats of further loss of life in future confrontations with Israeliforces, the Free Gaza Movement intends to send more flotillas to Gazauntil the embargo is lifted.
“If Israel intended to intimidateus 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 untilthe siege is lifted.”
The Office of the Coordinator ofGovernment Activities in the Territories continued on Thursday tounload the supplies carried by the flotilla that was stopped this week,to transfer it to the Gaza Strip.
By the afternoon, more than 30trucks had been loaded with clothes, blankets, schoolbags, baby carseats, mattresses and assorted medical equipment such as wheelchairsand hospital beds.
Some of the medicine that was brought by the flotilla had alreadyexpired and the IDF had also discovered clothes that could be used tomake 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 akibbutz in the Ashkelon coast region and a fourth near Sderot.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories wishes todeny a claim by Hamas that was reported in The Jerusalem Poston Thursday that the IDF removed batteries from electricwheelchairs that were brought to Israel aboard the Gaza flotilla,Ron Friedman writes. COGAT has clarified that thewheelchairs are waiting to be transferred into the Gaza Strip at theKerem Shalom Crossing with their batteries inside.