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5 Jun, 2010 16:16

Gaza aid ship seized, towed to Israeli port

Israel's navy has towed the humanitarian aid ship “Rachel Corrie”, sailing under an Irish flag, to the port city of Ashdod. It had earlier been boarded by Israeli troops off the blockaded coast of Gaza.

Nevertheless, international aid activists have vowed to send more ships to try and break through the Israeli blockade of Gaza in the coming weeks.

Since the early hours of Saturday morning, three Israeli ships had been shadowing the Rachel Corrie.

There have been 19 activists on board the ship, including a former Peace Prize laureate, as well as Denis Halliday, the former UN Assistant Secretary General. It is reported the Israelis met no resistance.

This comes after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told senior Cabinet ministers late Thursday that no vessel would be allowed to break the blockade of Gaza.

Netanyahu also said they need to check the equipment on board and only then they can process it – via land.

Meanwhile, Hamas has issued a statement saying that this humanitarian aid will only be accepted if it comes through the port of Gaza.

“Rachel Corrie” is carrying 1200 tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement to the conflict-torn region.

This cement, of which there are some 500 tonnes, might have a question mark hanging over it because Israel insists it will not allow cement into the Gaza strip.

Denis Halliday, prior to the ship setting sail from Cyprus, said that all the cargo on board had been checked by government officials and trade unions.

Israel’s Monday attack on aid flotilla sparks outrage – and questions

Rachel Corrie was an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer seven years ago when she was protesting against house demolitions in Gaza.

She has since become a household name and her parents are continuing her legacy.

They have demanded an inquiry into the bloodshed unleashed earlier in the week when Israeli commandos attacked an aid flotilla, shooting nine activists dead.

“It seems like a war crime to me. We need to find the facts out. We need to find the facts, not from the Israeli government, but from the people who were on that ship,” says Rachel Corrie’s father Craig Corrie.

Turkish autopsy reports say the eight Turks and one American-Turkish citizen killed were shot a total of 30 times – five by gunshot wounds to the head, some from a distance of less than 45 centimeters. Witnesses say it was shooting to kill.

“Of course they opened frenzied fire with combat cartridges. They even wounded some people in the head. It means that the occupiers were just murdering people who dared to resist them,” says peace flotilla participant Hasan Rifai.

All 682 surviving passengers on board the ships were detained and deported from Israel within three days.

Many came from countries that have no diplomatic ties with the Jewish State. They were bussed to Jordan.

Back in Istanbul, protestors returned to a hero’s welcome – among them the flotilla’s youngest passenger, a one-and-a-half-year-old baby.

“We saw the Israeli boats approaching the Mavi Marmara. Then we heard gunshots. The captain called us and said: go away! Israeli soldiers opened fire, broke the windows and doors. While the captain was warning us, we heard gunshots and a big explosion. We tried to flee, but soldiers captured us and they took us to the Ashdod port,” recalls flotilla passenger Kutlu Tiryaki.

Among those detained was an Arab-Israeli parliamentarian, Hanin Zoabi. When she tried to explain her position in parliament she was booed and heckled – as was another Arab Knesset member who tried to talk to journalists in Ashdod.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the killings a massacre and declared three days of national mourning.

Across the globe, Israel’s actions have been condemned. Most countries are demanding an international investigation. But Israel rejects the call, saying instead it will carry out its own internal probe.

No end to finger-pointing

Akhmad Yousef, a senior adviser to the Hamas Prime Minister, believes Israel's actions can be called an act of piracy in international waters.

“They have no respect for the international law! We hear from every corner of the world that everybody is condemning them for attacking the ships, which have a peaceful and noble mission – to try to help Palestinians,” he said.

Speaking from Gaza City, Mahmoud Abu Rahma from the Al Mezan Center For Human Rights admitted that Israeli forces acted ‘more properly’ when dealing with “Rachel Corrie”, than with other ships.

“They will be treated as illegal immigrants who came to Israel (which is very ironic). At least the Israeli army didn't act violently and didn't affect the health and the life of the activists,” Rahma told RT.

Member of the Free Gaza Movement Adie Mormech, who was on another flotilla almost a year ago trying to break the blockade, recalled that Israel doesn’t allow that much aid to come in to Gaza.

“As the international committee for the Red Cross operating here has said, they only allow 1/5 of the required aid that was coming in before the blockade,” Mormech told RT.

Inna Michaeli of the Women's Coalition for Peace, based in Israel, thinks Israel's attitude towards humanitarian missions is offensive.

“Of course we feel that the suggestion of Israel to allow the humanitarian aid to enter Gaza once the ship comes to Ashdod is cynical to say the least. The entire idea here is not to ask for Israel’s permission to bring this or that humanitarian aid,” she says.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman claims the aid for Gaza was just a pretense with the ultimate goal being bloodshed.

“The organizers of this Gaza mission have been supporting insurgents in Chechnya for many years. They maintain close contact with Chechen militants. So, it’s absolutely clear that their aim was to spill blood and provoke clashes. They didn’t have any other desires,” Lieberman said. “We established close official and unofficial contacts with the Turkish authorities. We tried to offer alternative solutions and find a civilized way of delivering this alleged relief cargo to the Gaza Strip. They rejected all our proposals. The world reaction was nothing new. We’ve become used to hypocrisy and double standards”.

Israel insists its raid was not only legal, but vital to protecting its borders. It claims the Flotilla was a deliberate provocation.

“One of the assumptions that we are currently checking is the fact that they actually threw weapons off the ship to the sea. I can tell you this, because we found bullets that were used that the Israeli navy does not use. I can also tell you that we found large sums of money, round sums of money in envelopes, that were distributed to many of the terrorist groups, many of the people that were in terrorist groups there,” claims Avital Leibowitz, spokesperson for Israeli Defence Forces.

Meanwhile, Adam Shapiro from the International Solidarity Movement has criticized a video released by Israel of the first ship raid, accusing it of being fraudulent. He says the US media is uncritically carrying the propaganda that Israel is putting forth.

“The US media so far has mainly relied on the Israeli military information and videos and things like that, and they accepted them largely without question, and we actually have so significant questions about authenticity of the videos and of the authenticity of the pictures,” says Adam Shapiro.