Perdana Global Peace Organisation

Israeli forces board the Rachel Corrie

In News and Updates on June 5, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Israel risked a fresh wave of international condemnation today when its troops boarded a boat attempting to break the blockade of Gaza and forcibly diverted it to the port of Ashdod.

Five days after the botched assault on a six-boat flotilla ended in the deaths of nine activists and international isolation for Israel, an unknown number of naval commandos stormed the MV Rachel Corrie in international waters, about 20 miles from the coast of Gaza.

Today’s operation was mounted despite growing calls for Israel to ease its siege of Gaza significantly. The US, Israel’s staunchest ally, said the blockade was “unsustainable and must be changed”.

Israel said it had met no resistance in stopping the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie. “They complied with us completely,” an Israeli military spokeswoman told the Observer.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, the main organisation behind the flotilla, said the passengers and crew had four times refused to accede to Israeli demands to divert to Ashdod voluntarily.

“There’s no way that 20 people are going to resist a fully armed force,” she said. “The fact that Israel boarded a civilian boat in international waters is a violent act.”

She expected the 11 passengers – including the Nobel peace laureate Máiread Maguire– and nine crew would be treated “with kid gloves: the world is watching”.

There had been no contact with the boat since early this morning, said Berlin. “Communications are shut down.”

According to Israeli military accounts, commandos boarded the Rachel Corrie from naval vessels alongside rather than from helicopters, as happened in Monday’s operation. They gained control of the boat within minutes.

The passengers and crew had already declared their intention not to resist.

The boat, carrying medical supplies and construction materials, was being towed into port to Ashdod this afternoon. Israel said it would unload the aid and transfer it to Gaza. However, last week it refused to allow any construction materials from the flotilla into Gaza, claiming they could be used to make weapons and build underground bunkers.

The passengers, from Ireland and Malaysia, would be deported immediately, Ygal Palmor, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, told the Observer. The Irish passengers would be offered flights from Ben Gurion airport; the Malaysians – whose government has no diplomatic relations with Israel – would be taken by bus to the land border with Jordan.

If they refused to comply with summary deportation, they would be taken to a detention centre until their case could be heard by a court, Palmor said.

All those deported would be refused entry to Israel for around 10 years, he added.

Israel has spent the past five days struggling to contain a diplomatic crisis and public relations catastrophe. Relations with its regional ally Turkey, whose nationals accounted for all those killed on Monday, have sunk to an unprecedented low.

Despite strenuous efforts by Israel to ensure the dominance of its version of events, accounts emerging from activists have claimed that Israeli troops fired first on the boat at the centre of the assault, the Marvi Marmara. Israel has claimed a hard core of 40 “jihadis” on board was intent on attacking its troops.

Autopsy reports on the dead activists yesterday revealed that some had been shot at close range, and five had gunshot wounds to the head.

The US has joined the growing international chorus for the siege of Gaza to be eased.

“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,” said the national security council spokesman Mike Hammer. “The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed.”

Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has hinted at a limited adjustment in the blockade policy, but aid agencies fear it will a cosmetic change aimed at appeasing international opinion rather than a genuinely relieving of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“Forces used the same procedures for Monday’s flotilla and Saturday’s sailing but was met by a different response,” he said in a statement.

“On today’s ship, and in five of the six vessels in the previous flotilla, [boarding] procedure ended without casualties. The only difference was with one ship, where extremist Islamic activists, supporters of terrorism, waited for our troops on the deck with axes and knives.”

He defended the blockade, saying it was meant to keep weapons out of the hands of the Iranian-backed Hamas and he would “not allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza.”

Today’s operation was swiftly condemned.

“The Rachel Corrie and her cargo presents no threat to Israel,” said the Northern Ireland deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness. “[It] should have been allowed to proceed to Gaza without Israeli aggression.”

Yesterday The Free Gaza Movement said it was planning another flotilla attempt. “We will continue until we break the siege of Gaza,” Berlin said.

In London, thousands of people marched from Downing Street to the Israeli embassy to protest against the deaths of the nine activists and the latest move by Israel.

Among them was Sarah Colborne, director of campaigns and operations at the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, who had been on the Mavi Marmara.

She spent almost two days in jail in Be’er Sheva in southern Israel, and was the first British survivor of the attack to return to London.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was glad the interception had been peaceful.

He again called for a full, credible, impartial and independent investigation into last week’s events.

“We continue to stress to the Israeli government the importance of an investigation that ensures accountability and commands the confidence of the international community, and includes international participation,” he said.

“We urgently need to see unfettered access to Gaza to meet the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza and to enable the reconstruction of homes, livelihoods and trade. That is why we continue to press the government of Israel to lift Gaza’s closure.”

He would be discussing these issues during visits to European capitals in the next few days, Mr Hague said.

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