March 13, 2009 / 9:54 PM / 11 years ago

Nine nations agree plan to combat arms flow to Gaza

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States, Canada and seven European nations agreed Friday to try to stop the flow of weapons to Gaza by methods such as interception at sea, information sharing and diplomatic pressure.

An Israeli soldier gestures atop a mobile artillery unit as the sun sets over the central Gaza Strip January 5, 2009. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen

Experts from the nine nations, meeting in London, agreed on a program of action to prevent arms reaching the Palestinian enclave bordering the Mediterranean, a senior British diplomat said.

But states are not obliged to join any particular action and the diplomat said that naval vessels would not use force.

Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway signed up to the program, the diplomat said.

Stopping the flow of arms is seen as a crucial part of international efforts to bring a durable ceasefire to Gaza and persuade Israel to lift tough restrictions on humanitarian and reconstruction aid reaching the Palestinian territory.

The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the program set guidelines for steps countries could take under international law. “What it does is provide a platform to start some form of practical cooperation,” he said.

Israel and Hamas ordered ceasefires on January 18 after a 22-day Israeli offensive against the Islamist group which controls the territory. A Palestinian human rights group said this week 1,434 Gazans, including 960 civilians, were killed.

Thirteen Israelis were killed during the offensive, which Israel said it launched to force Hamas to stop firing rockets and mortars at southern Israeli towns.

The program read out by the diplomat says the nine countries, all NATO members, will “take action, to the extent that national legal authorities permit and consistent with international law, to support interdiction efforts.”

“Such efforts may include enquiry, boarding, searching, stopping, seizing, or other efforts necessary to prevent transfers of arms, ammunition and weapons components,” it said, but added that naval ships would not use force.

The program proposes sharing information about points of origin, carriers and transit routes of suspected arms shipments to Gaza, and cooperation to put diplomatic pressure on countries involved to stop weapons reaching Gaza.

Editing by Tim Pearce

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