An Irish aid boat is on course to dock in Gaza at the weekend, activists said today and called on the UN to help ensure its safe passage after deadly Israeli raids stopped a flotilla this week. The MV Rachel Corrie carrying 15 people including a Nobel Prize winner and a former top UN official was less than 720 kilometres from where six boats were boarded in an Israeli raid which left nine dead.
"We want to emphasise that our aim is not provocation but getting our aid cargo into Gaza," said former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, in a statement released by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC). "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 added. Irish prime minister Brian Cowen has said that the Rachel Corrie must be allowed to reach Gaza and warned of "the most serious consequences" if Irish citizens were injured.
Five of those on board are Irish, including Halliday and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, 66. The others are five Malaysians, four Indonesians and a Scottish captain. "It's going about 200 miles a day," said Kevin Squires of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC). "So it's expected to reach sometime on Saturday," he told AFP, while adding: "I think they want to get there during the day, in daylight, so they might slow down or speed up, depending on when that would actually be."
Asked how its passengers would respond if Israeli authorities try to stop or board the vessel, he added: "Their aim is to get to Gaza, but if the Israelis try to stop them they won't resist. "They'll sit down and put their arms in the air ... They can't very well carry on through a blockade. They will sit down and be arrested," he said. The boat is carrying some 750 tonnes of aid including medical and school supplies, toys, and cement, according to the vessel's manifest, supplied by the organisers.
The cement - intended for reconstruction in Gaza, according to organisers - may prove problematic. "The presence of cement on board the vessel is not regarded by the Israelis as a product that is simply humanitarian. We await to see what emerges from that definition," the Irish premier said on Wednesday. One of the Malaysians on board, Shamsul Akmar, said: "We are prepared to face whatever situation that awaits us and we are determined to go ahead and carry on with this mission."
"Everyone on board is in high spirits," he added in a Twitter message posted by Malaysia's Perdana Global Peace Organisation. The boat is named after Rachel Corrie, an activist killed in 2003 as she tried to prevent an Israeli military bulldozer from razing a Palestinian home in Rafah. Ms Corrie's parents Cindy and Craig called today for international pressure on Israel to allow aid ships safe passage to Gaza.
"The US and other governments can and must insist that other boats from the flotilla, including the MV Rachel Corrie, named for our daughter, be permitted to sail through international waters to Gaza unobstructed," they said. Mr Halliday added: "We all remain in good spirits, and we want to thank everyone all over the world for all their support." * AFP
Mourners in Istanbul hoisted coffins Thursday to cheers of "God is great!" as they honoured activists slain during an Israeli commando raid, and the father of the lone American killed praised his teenage son as being a martyr for a just cause. The joint funeral came as Israel rejected demands for an international panel to investigate its deadly takeover Monday of six aid ships trying to break Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hotly rejected calls to lift the blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, insisting the ban prevents missile attacks on Israel. Some 10,000 people prayed Thursday outside Istanbul's Fatih mosque before eight Turkish and Palestinian flag-draped coffins lined up in a row in a traditional service for the dead. Eight Turks and an American of Turkish origin were honoured, ranging in age from over 60 to 19. A ninth victim, a Turkish man, was having a service on Friday. "Our friends have been massacred," said Bulent Yildirim, the head of the Islamic charity group IHH that organized the Gaza flotilla, before mourners carried the coffins through the crowd to cars to be taken for burial. * AP