Israeli forces approaching Gaza flotilla
Israel Navy forces approaching one of six ships of an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Senior Fatah officials will be allowed to take part in a planned aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip, a senior faction official said on Thursday, departing from the party's previous policy of only supporting Gaza initiatives from afar.

The Free Gaza Movement, a pro-Palestinian activist umbrella group, has said it was planning to launch a 15-ship aid flotilla in late May bearing international passengers including Europeans and Americans.

Nine Turks were shot dead in the May 31 clash when Israeli marines stormed a flotilla organized by a Turkish Islamist charity, which ignored orders to turn back as it tried to breach an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

In the past, Fatah, a central member of the West Bank-ruling Palestinian Authority, refrained from physically participating in Gaza aid initiatives, also as a result of its long-standing feud with rival faction Hamas, which has been ruling the coastal enclave since 2007.

Speaking with Nazareth's A Shams on Thursday, Fatah official Nabil Sha'ath, in charge of the party's foreign affairs portfolio, said Fatah would permit senior officials to partake in the planned flotilla, since it was considered a humanitarian effort geared at lifting the Gaza blockade.

Referring to the possibility that Fatah officials may require authorization from both Israeli security forces and Hamas, which governs the Strip, Sha'ath said: "We don't need approval to arrive at our homeland, and certainly not from a movement like Hamas and Israel's security establishment."

Sha'ath's comments came after earlier this week donor states to the Palestinian Authority, which held a conference last week in Brussels, condemned in its concluding statement uncoordinated aid flotillas to Gaza.

The conference called on all parties to use land terminals to the Strip and avoid provocations. The statement is signed by the chairman of the conference, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store.

A major force behind the clause was intense lobbying from the Israeli delegation to the conference, comprised of the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, and Foreign Ministry diplomats.

The concluding statement endorsed the opinion of the United Nations special coordinator on the peace process in the Middle East, Robert Serry, the opinion of the World Bank and of the International Monetary Fund, all of which praised the effective operation of the Palestinian Authority in various fields and determined that the authority was above the bar of a functioning state in these areas.

The donor states voiced a commitment to the vision of establishing an independent, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state, to exist peacefully and securely alongside Israel.