Egypt Independent

Israel shadows new Gaza-bound ship

The Israeli navy intercepted and was shadowing another ship bound for blockaded Gaza carrying aid and activists on Saturday, five days after the bloody seizure of a Turkish ship triggered an international outcry.
A spokeswoman for the Free Gaza group backing the Rachel Corrie, and a journalist aboard the vessel quoted by Al Jazeera, said warships were following the Irish-owned freighter.
“We can see some Israeli ships a little away from us. They are following us, there has been no contact,” the journalist quoted by the station said an hour or so after dawn.
Activists’ contact with the ship was patchy, spokeswoman Greta Berlin said, adding that it had been some 55 km (35 miles) west of Gaza.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said she had no information.
Israel has said it would not let the ship through to its intended destination in Gaza. Berlin said those on the Rachel Corrie would not accept earlier Israeli offers to dock at Israel’s Ashdod port and have the supplies sent on over land.
Israel says its blockade of the Gaza Strip, tightened after Islamist Hamas seized the enclave from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in 2007, aims to keep out arms.
In Washington, the White House said Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was unsustainable but urged the Gaza aid vessel to divert to an Israeli port to reduce the risk of violence.
“We are working urgently with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other international partners to develop new procedures for delivering more goods and assistance to Gaza,” Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said on Friday.
“The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed. For now, we call on all parties to join us in encouraging responsible decisions by all sides to avoid any unnecessary confrontations,” Hammer said in a statement.
The Irish-owned Rachel Corrie is a converted merchant vessel bought by pro-Palestinian activists and named after an American woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.
On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “We will stop the ship, and also any other ship that will try to harm Israeli sovereignty. There is no chance the Rachel Corrie will reach the coast of Gaza.”
The Israeli military declined to give prior details of what it planned to do in the event the navy had to intervene.
In Dublin, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said in a statement: “Those on board the Rachel Corrie have indicated that they are ready to accept inspection of their cargo at sea, prior to docking in Gaza.”
Autopsy results on the nine dead Turkish activists from Monday’s raid showed they had been shot a total of 30 times, many at close range, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday. Five were killed by gunshots to the head, it said.
Turkish-American activist Fulkan Dogan was shot five times from less than 45 cm (18 inches) away, in the face, the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back, the paper said. In addition to those killed, 48 others received gunshot wounds and six activists were still missing.
In his angriest rhetoric yet, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused the Jewish state on Friday of violating its own biblical commandments.
“I am speaking to them in their own language. The sixth commandment says ‘thou shalt not kill’. Did you not understand?” Erdogan said in a televised speech to party supporters.
“I’ll say again. I say in English ‘you shall not kill’. Did you still not understand?. So I’ll say to you in your own language. I say in Hebrew ‘Lo Tirtzakh’.”
Turkey, Israel’s only Muslim ally, has threatened to rethink its entire relationship. Thousands of protesters sang Turkey’s praises at demonstrations in Egypt and Lebanon on Friday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a forum of senior ministers on Friday to discuss the arrival of the Rachel Corrie and actions to be taken following the international criticism Israel faced after Monday’s events.
A foreign ministry statement said Israel wanted to avoid confrontation and invited the Rachel Corrie to dock in Israel’s own port of Ashdod, where its cargo could be unloaded, inspected and transferred to Gaza if it contains no contraband.
“We in Israel have no desire for confrontation … If the ship decides to sail to the port of Ashdod in Israel then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it,” foreign ministry official Yossi Gal said.
“Israel is prepared to receive the ship and to offload its contents and after an inspection to ensure that no weapons and/or war materiel are on board, we are prepared to deliver all of the goods to Gaza.”