Deal to deliver aid scuppered
Crew rejects solution to stand-off
A last-minute deal between the Irish Government and Israeli authorities over the MV 'Rachel Corrie' was last night rejected by its crew as it edged ever closer to Gaza.
The 11th-hour compromise would have allowed the Irish-owned ship to approach the Israeli exclusion zone before being diverted to the port of Ashdod to unload its cargo.
After an independent inspection by the UN, the cargo would then have been transported to Gaza with two members of the 'Rachel Corrie' travelling with it across the border into Gaza.
However, the negotiated deal was last night rejected by the ship's crew, which includes five Irish citizens.
Its rejection followed round-the-clock talks between Irish and Israeli officials.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said the deal would have ensured the safety of those on board the ship.
The deal would also have offered a "useful precedent" for future humanitarian shipments.
But Mr Martin said he accepted and respected the crew's decision to decline the deal and continue their protest.
And he warned the Israeli government to "demonstrate every restraint" if it intercepted the Irish-owned ship.
"Those on board the 'Rachel Corrie' have made clear their peaceful intentions and have stated that they will offer no resistance to Israeli forces. Based on these assurances, there can be no justification for the use of force against any person on board the 'Rachel Corrie'," the minister said last night.
The Government also urged the Israeli government to ensure the transfer to Gaza of the entire cargo of the 'Rachel Corrie', including cement.
Since Monday's incident, when Israeli commandos stormed a convoy of ships carrying aid to the Gaza Strip and nine people were killed, the Government has been attempting to obtain assurances that the 'Rachel Corrie' would not be impeded in its efforts to reach Gaza. However, the Israelis have vowed to stop any vessel from breaching their blockade.
Earlier, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the Government was continuing to make its position "very clear" to the Israeli authorities.
Those aboard the ship were of "peaceful motivation" and this was being stressed to Israeli authorities, Mr Cowen said.
Dundalk film maker Fiona Thompson last night said passengers on the Irish aid ship bound for Gaza were preparing to be intercepted by Israeli authorities when they reached the shore. Speaking just 80 miles from the shore, Ms Thompson told how the crew on the MV Rachel Corrie were expecting to reach Gaza around 8am this morning. And while they had yet to make contact with Israeli officials, they were already bracing themselves for a confrontation. "If they decide to come on board, we will insist that we are here in a peaceful manner and just trying to bring in aid," she revealed by satellite phone. Despite the tension she said that morale was "good".