We will not turn back, say Irish on board 'Rachel Corrie'
THE Irish campaigners on board a humanitarian aid ship headed for Gaza have vowed to keep going towards an almost certain confrontation with the Israeli military.
The crew of the Irish 'Rachel Corrie' last night said they are "very determined to keep going" as they edged closer to Gaza at the end of a three-week journey to deliver aid supplies.
Confusion emerged yesterday when a board member from the Free Gaza Movement, which is associated with the ship's campaign, said the boat would be turned back and docked to fit surveillance equipment.
However, former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, who is on the vessel, said they are "well on their way to Gaza" and would continue.
Yesterday, the 'Rachel Corrie' was some 400 miles off the coast of Gaza.
It was expected to reach the normal point of interception with Israeli forces, some 100 miles off the coast in international waters, this afternoon.
Adam Shapiro, a board member with the Free Gaza Movement, said from New York that a decision had been made to dock the ship at a port, which he refused to locate, in order to fit the surveillance equipment. "This is both a measure of protection for the ship and the people on the ship as well as to make sure that we have the ability to show what happens moment by moment," he told the Irish Independent.
"We are not saying which port it is in because Israel has already sabotaged two of our boats previously and as a means of protecting the ship, we won't say where we are going."
However, Mr Halliday subsequently told the Irish Independent that docking the ship at this stage would be "the death knell" for the project.
He said the crew of the ship were intent on progressing towards Gaza and any change in this course would not be practical at this stage.
The 'Rachel Corrie' is carrying 1,000 tonnes of cement, educational materials, toys and medical equipment.
On board the 1,200 tonne vessel are 19 people -- five Irish and six Malaysian, along with a crew of eight.
The Irish campaigners on the ship are married couple Jenny and Derek Graham, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, Mr Halliday and filmmaker Fiona Thompson from Dundalk.
Yesterday Mr Halliday said their aim was not to provoke but to get the aid to Gaza.
"We are calling on the UN to inspect the cargo and escort us into Gaza and to send a UN representative to sail on board before they enter the exclusion zone," he said.
However, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would not allow its Gaza blockade to be breached. "No ship will reach Gaza. The 'Rachel Corrie' will not reach Gaza," he told Israel Radio.
Intensive talks are taking place between Irish Government officials and the Israeli authorities.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is seeking assurances that the 'Rachel Corrie' will be allowed through to Gaza unimpeded. But no verbal or written assurances have yet been provided. A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Ireland said it had "no comment at this particular time".
Campaigner Shane Dillon, who was the first of the Irish activists from the flotilla to return home, yesterday appeared before the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs.
He insisted that those on board the flotilla had not physically resisted Israeli troops. The resistance was "just verbal", he told cross-party TDs and senators.