Irish-owned aid ship close to Gaza


Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has again called for the MV Rachel Corrie to be allowed to proceed to Gaza after it emerged that an agreement allowing it to dock at the port of Ashdod in Israel, was turned down by those onboard the boat.

Israel, facing an international outcry over its naval operation on Monday in which nine Turkish activists were killed on a ship bound for Gaza, has vowed to prevent the Irish-owned aid ship from reaching the Gaza coast.

"We will stop the ship, and also any other ship that will try to harm Israeli sovereignty. There is no chance the Rachel Corrie will reach the coast of Gaza," foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israel's Channel 1 television.

The Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has said the ship is approximately 80 miles away from the exclusion zone and expects to reach it by 8am Irish time.

In a statement issued this evening Mr Martin said an understanding had been reached with the Israeli government earlier today whereby the Irish-owned aid ship would have been allowed to approach the Israeli exclusion zone before accepting diversion to Ashdod.

Once there the cargo would have been unloaded and inspected under the supervision of UN and officials from the Irish Aid Division of the Department for Foreign Affairs and then transported to Gaza. Under the deal, two representatives from the Rachel Corrie would have been permitted to accompany the cargo to the Israeli border crossing into Gaza at Erez.

However, the proposal was turned down by those on board the ship who are still en route to Gaza despite the Israeli government stating that it is not willing to allow any breach of its naval blockade.

"As the Rachel Corrie continues to approach Gaza, the Government’s primary concern is the safety of Irish citizens and others on board. We are also conscious of the urgent need to address the humanitarian concerns of the people of Gaza, the desirability of reducing international tensions following the violent storming of humanitarian supply vessels by Israeli commandos earlier this week, and the obligation of States to respect the right to peaceful protest," said Mr Martin.

Mr Martin urged the Israeli authorities to demonstrate restraint if it intercepts the MV Rachel Corrie, saying that those onboard the ship have made clear their peaceful intentions and 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," he said.

Mr Martin also urged the Israeli Government to ensure the transfer to Gaza of the entire cargo of the ship, including cement which is urgently needed for the reconstruction of Gaza.

"The Government continues to call on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Pending that, Israel should immediately facilitate the import into Gaza of all goods, other than weapons,” he added.