JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel was prepared to intercept another ship bound for Gaza carrying aid and activists Saturday, increasing fears of more international tension over its blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Israel faces an international outcry after its naval operation Monday in which nine Turkish activists were killed on a ship bound for Gaza.
Israel says its blockade of the Gaza Strip, imposed after Hamas seized the territory from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, is meant to prevent arms and military supplies from reaching the territory’s Hamas rulers.
In Washington, the White House said Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was unsustainable but urged the Gaza aid vessel to divert to an Israeli port to reduce the risk of violence.
“We are working urgently with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other international partners to develop new procedures for delivering more goods and assistance to Gaza,” Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Friday.
“The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed. For now, we call on all parties to join us in encouraging responsible decisions by all sides to avoid any unnecessary confrontations,” Hammer said in a statement.
The Irish-owned Rachel Corrie — a converted merchant vessel bought by pro-Palestinian activists and named after an American woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003 — pressed on despite the earlier ship’s violent interception.
One of the activists on board, Irishman Denis Halliday, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general, told Irish radio on Friday they expected to reach the Israeli-imposed exclusion zone overnight and aimed to continue toward Gaza in daylight.
Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “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.”
The Israeli military declined to give prior details of what it planned to do in the event the navy had to intervene.
In Dublin, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said in a statement: “Those on board the Rachel Corrie have indicated that they are ready to accept inspection of their cargo at sea, prior to docking in Gaza.”
Autopsy results on the nine dead Turkish activists from Monday’s raid showed they had been shot a total of 30 times, many at close range, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday. Five were killed by gunshots to the head, it said.
Turkish-American activist Fulkan Dogan was shot five times from less than 45 cm (18 inches) away, in the face, the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back, the paper said. In addition to those killed, 48 others received gunshot wounds and six activists were still missing.
In his angriest rhetoric yet, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused the Jewish state Friday of violating its own biblical commandments.
“I am speaking to them in their own language. The sixth commandment says ‘thou shalt not kill’. Did you not understand?” Erdogan said in a televised speech to party supporters.
“I’ll say again. I say in English ‘you shall not kill’. Did you still not understand?. So I’ll say to you in your own language. I say in Hebrew ‘Lo Tirtzakh’.”
Turkey, Israel’s only Muslim ally, has threatened to rethink its entire relationship. Thousands of protesters sang Turkey’s praises at demonstrations in Egypt and Lebanon Friday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a forum of senior ministers Friday to discuss the arrival of the Rachel Corrie and actions to be taken following the international criticism Israel faced after Monday’s events.
A foreign ministry statement said Israel wanted to avoid confrontation and invited the Rachel Corrie to dock in Israel’s own port of Ashdod, where its cargo could be unloaded, inspected and transferred to Gaza if it contains no contraband.
“We in Israel have no desire for confrontation ... If the ship decides to sail to the port of Ashdod in Israel then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it,” foreign ministry official Yossi Gal said.
“Israel is prepared to receive the ship and to offload its contents and after an inspection to ensure that no weapons and/or war materiel are on board, we are prepared to deliver all of the goods to Gaza.”
Additional reporting by Andras Gergely in Dublin, Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara and Alister Bull in Washington; Editing by Michael Roddy