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U.N. panel condemns Israelis’ ship raid

Gaza activists weigh sending new shipment to challenge blockade

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday condemned a deadly Israeli raid on a so-called aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip even as pro-Palestinian activists planned to send another ship in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade.

The Security Council also urged Israel to release all six ships and 680 activists detained in Monday's incident.

Israel responded late Tuesday by deporting all the activists.

"It was agreed that the detainees would be deported immediately," Nir Hefez, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a statement to reporters, according to the Haaretz newspaper.

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak approved the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt for humanitarian purposes, state-owned television reported.

The Security Council called for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards." The statement was issued after an emergency session that concluded in the early hours of Tuesday.

The council "condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of [lives] and many wounded, and expresses its condolences to their families," according to the statement. It urged Israel to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid from the convoy to its destination.

The U.N. body also said it "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation."

Pro-Palestinian activists said they were considering sending another ship to challenge the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, which has organized the aid shipments, said the Rachel Corrie — named for a U.S. peace activist who was killed when she was struck by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza in 2003 — had lagged behind the flotilla by four days.

Ms. Berlin said the group was still deciding on when to send the ship on to Gaza.

"This is not a publicity stunt. This is about breaking the blockade on Gaza," she said in a phone interview.

She described the attempt to break the blockade as a "citizens' initiative, since the governments have done nothing."

Haim Malka, deputy director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the incident "shifted attention back to the complex problem of Gaza, which the United States, Israel and the West Bank Palestinian Authority preferred to ignore as they restarted Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks."

Earlier, six ships carrying aid and campaigners had sailed from Cyprus in an attempt to break the blockade.

Israel says its commandos were attacked with "knives, clubs and other weapons" by activists on board the ships and that they opened fire in self-defense. Nine activists were killed in the operation.

Turkey, Israel's closest Muslim ally, has led international criticism of the incident.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of a "bloody massacre" in an address to Parliament.

Mr. Malka said the Israeli-Turkish relationship has "deteriorated dramatically" over the past two years and that the Gaza incident "will drive an even deeper wedge between the former allies."

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