Activists join Iran's aid ship to break Gaza naval blockade
Israeli commandos stand by as fears mount of suicide bomber on vessel
Published 23/06/2010 | 05:00
IRAN is sending a ship carrying aid and pro-Palestinian activists to break the blockade imposed by the Israelis on Gaza.
The announcement last night is likely to fuel tensions in Israel, where commandos were training for another possible confrontation at sea. Israel warned Iran to drop the plan last night.
The Iranian announcement has come only days after Israel eased its three-year-old blockade of Gaza following inter- national pressure since its disastrous raid on a flotilla last month.
"No one in their right mind can believe that a ship sent by the ayatollahs and their Revolutionary Guards has anything to do with humanitarian aid," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. "I don't think there is one single country in this region and beyond that would let such an ayatollah ship come near its coasts."
Security officials said the prospect of an Iranian boat headed for Gaza had Israel deeply worried, and that naval commandos were training for the possibility of a vessel with a suicide bomber on board.
After an international outcry over the killing of nine Turkish activists in a May 31 raid, Israel eased its land blockade of Gaza but insisted on maintaining a naval blockade it says is necessary to keep weapons shipments out of the hands of Gaza's Hamas rulers. Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas, with its violently anti-Israel agenda, overran the Palestinian territory in June 2007.
Egypt had joined Israel in blockading Gaza, but it opened its land crossing indefinitely after the May raid to let thousands of Palestinians through. Egyptian transportation official Mohammad Abdelwahab suggested his country was also ready to back off the naval blockade.
He said Egypt would not prevent the Iranian ship from passing through the Suez Canal, a strategic passageway that connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea that borders Gaza.
Iran's state television reported that an Iranian ship called 'Infants of Gaza' would sail on Sunday for Gaza carrying 1,100 tons of relief supplies and 10 pro-Palestinian activists.
Israel considers Iran the most serious threat because of its suspect nuclear programme, its long-range missiles and its support for Lebanese and Gaza militants. The Iranian ship is one of several that activists say will head for Gaza in the next few months.