Israeli PM vows to stop Irish aid ship
Activists reject deal brokered by Martin
ISRAEL'S hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted yesterday that an Irish aid ship bound for Gaza would be stopped from reaching land.
He spoke as Irish officials last night intensified urgent diplomatic efforts to secure a peaceful passage for the MV Rachel Corrie.
A fresh maritime showdown now seems inevitable -- just days after Israeli forces killed nine Turkish activists who were trying to break an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.
It was revealed last night that the activists on the MV Rachel Corrie, including five Irish people, rejected a deal that had been brokered by Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin with the Israeli government.
Under the deal, the aid would have been unloaded in the Israeli port of Ashdod under the supervision of UN and Irish Aid officials.
After inspection, all of the aid, including 550 tonnes of concrete, was to be allowed into Gaza -- but activists, including Nobel peace prizewinner Mairead Maguire and former UN official Denis Halliday, rejected the proposal.
They remain adamant that they are entitled to bring the aid directly to Gaza and do not recognise the legality of the Israeli blockade.
First mate Derek Graham, an electrician who has been on four of the five previous voyages that docked in Gaza, said the aim of the flotilla was not just about bringing aid to Palestine.
"We rejected the offer because we are trying to highlight that Gaza is under siege by air, sea and land and we are trying to break that siege," Mr Graham said.
As the vessel came within 160km of the Gaza coast early this morning, Mr Netanyahu vowed to stop the ship from reaching Gaza.
The Irish-sponsored ship, carrying 1,200 tonnes of cement, toys and medical aid, was due to reach Gaza today at around 4pm Irish time.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen had earlier emphasised "the peaceful motivation" of the mission.
"Obviously, we have been keeping in close contact," he said. "We've made clear that we would like to see safe passage for the Rachel Corrie and the humanitarian effort it is making to bring much needed supplies to the people of Gaza.
"We have made our position clear regarding the illegality of the blockade as things stand."
But Mr Netanyahu's comments heightened fears of fresh bloodshed. The killings of the Turkish activists unleashed a wave of anger and international condemnation -- although Israel has defended its actions.
Sources in Israel insisted its military forces had been ordered to be "sensitive" in stopping the Rachel Corrie from landing, while those on board have pledged no resistance.
Ms Maguire said activists were determined to press on but would offer no resistance if Israeli forces came aboard.
"We will sit down," she said in a telephone interview. "They will probably arrest us but there will be no resistance."
As diplomats continued to seek a solution to the crisis, Cardinal Sean Brady yesterday urged Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, which he said had caused huge suffering.
"It is clear that it is now time to lift the blockade on Gaza," he said. "The international community has to act to ensure that all parties in the region operate within international laws and conventions."
Irish activists who were on other ships that formed an original flotilla of nine vessels intercepted by Israel arrived home yesterday.
Fiachra O Luain (28), from Donegal, claimed that activists had been beaten by Israeli forces and threatened with death.
Speaking at Dublin Airport, he and Dr Fintan Lane said they had never intended to go to Israel. They said they had been held there illegally after being taken from boats in the flotilla.
Mr O Luain said he had been "brutalised" while in custody in Ben Gurion Airport and that there were bruises all over his body as a result.
He added that he feared for his life and at one stage had asked to see a rabbi.
"I asked to see a rabbi and they told me I would only see a rabbi when they had killed me,"he claimed.
Mr Netanyahu told his senior ministers that Israel would not allow the aid ship to reach Gaza. The Israeli prime minister has rejected calls to lift the blockade, demanding that the Hamas government must prevent missile attacks on Israel.
He has also instructed the military to act with sensitivity in preventing the Rachel Corrie from landing and to avoid harming those on board, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the cabinet meeting was closed.
Asked if he had received any cast-iron assurances for the safety of the ship, Mr Cowen said: "We are still making our position clear."
The Taoiseach added: "The Rachel Corrie remains in international waters and we are making it very clear that we want to see this passage being successful and the humanitarian aid getting to the people concerned in Gaza."
Israel has rejected demands for an international panel to probe Monday's deadly commando raid on the aid ships.
It is adamant that it can conduct a professional, impartial investigation on its own.