- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2010

JERUSALEM | The United Nations will take to Gaza tons of aid supplies languishing in an Israeli port for two weeks since they were seized in a bloody sea confrontation, the Israeli military said Tuesday.

Richard Miron, a spokesman for the U.N. Mideast envoy, confirmed the deal. The military said the aid, taken from a six-ship Gaza-bound flotilla after nine people died in clashes, would fill 70 trucks.

Up to now, the Hamas rulers of Gaza have refused to accept the aid as a protest against Israel’s three-year blockade of the territory. Hamas had no comment on the arrangement, under which the U.N. would take charge of seeing that the aid would be used in authorized humanitarian projects.

The Israeli military statement noted that Israel offered to let the flotilla land at an Israeli port, and then the aid would be transferred overland to Gaza after inspection, but flotilla organizers refused.

The May 31 raid on the flotilla, when commandos clashed with pro-Palestinian activists and killed nine, has focused world attention on the blockade and its dire effects on Gaza’s 1.5 million people. Israel has been under intense international pressure to ease or lift the embargo since the clash.

With Egypt’s cooperation, Israel has blockaded Gaza by land and sea since Hamas overran Gaza three years ago. The embargo has allowed in little more than food, medicine and basic humanitarian goods, causing Gaza’s already depressed economy to grind to a standstill. The embargo was meant to keep weapons out, weaken the Hamas government and put pressure on the militants to release an Israeli soldier it has held for four years.

Mr. Miron said that under the agreement, all the cargo would be sent to Gaza. He could not say whether that included items banned by Israel, including cement, but that if such items do make up part of the goods, “the U.N. will determine how and where it is used.”

Neither side would say when the supplies would be taken to Gaza.

Meanwhile, a key Israeli security chief warned Tuesday that lifting the blockade would endanger Israel.

Shin Bet internal security chief Yuval Diskin told a parliamentary committee that Hamas already has 5,000 rockets, most of them homemade. Others have been smuggled into Gaza and could strike deep inside Israel, he said.

Israel’s top-level Security Cabinet was set to meet Wednesday to discuss easing the blockade, senior officials said.

Mr. Diskin told the parliamentary committee that Israel’s security wouldn’t be compromised if it were to let more goods into the territory through Israeli-controlled land crossings, according to a participant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

Mr. Diskin warned that ending the naval blockade would be dangerous, even if international monitors were to inspect Gaza-bound ships, the meeting participant said.