Israeli forces boarded another aid ship yesterday without meeting resistance, enforcing a blockade of Gaza five days after commandos killed nine people on a Turkish aid boat. The Israeli navy, whose action on Monday triggered an international outcry, took control of the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie without incident, the Israeli military said.
The boat had ignored Israeli orders to divert to Israel's Ashdod port where Israel had offered to unload the cargo and deliver it to Gaza after inspecting it. Israel has faced mounting international pressure to lift the blockade since Monday's deadly confrontation with a flotilla of six boats carrying nearly 700 international activists and tonnes of aid for the Palestinian territory. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, defended the blockade yesterday, saying it was meant to keep weapons out of the hands of the Iranian-backed Hamas organisation that controls the territory, and he would "not allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza", even as the Obama administration called the current restrictions "unsustainable".
But the takeover prompted a furious response from the Dublin-based Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. "For the second time in less than a week, Israeli forces stormed and hijacked an unarmed aid ship, kidnapping its passengers and forcing the ship toward Ashdod port," it said. The 1,200-tonne Rachel Corrie, which was carrying 11 pro-Palestinian activists, nine crew and hundreds of tonnes of aid, was intercepted in international waters, about 30km from Gaza's shore and was escorted to Ashdod, the military said.
The military said the takeover began at 12.15 pm Israeli time and took only minutes. The outcry over the aid ships has been a public relations nightmare for Israel, while giving Hamas a welcome boost and vastly improving prospects of at least easing the closure of the territory. Turkey, one of the most outspoken critics of the Gaza blockade, said yesterday it is seeking condemnation of the previous Israeli raid at a June 7-8 summit of a 20-member security group for the Asian region.
Also yesterday, Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation against Israeli leaders, including the Mr Netanyahu, over Monday's raid, Turkish press reports said. The charges would include murder, injury, attacking Turkish citizens on the open seas and piracy, Zaman newspaper reported. Meanwhile, outrage at the botched raid continued across Europe. In Istanbul nearly 10,000 people gathered at Caglayan square, condemning Israel as a "murderer". Angry protesters chanting anti-Israeli slogans and waving Palestinian and Turkish flags also took to the streets of London, Dublin, and cities throughout France including Paris.