Passengers of 'Rachel Corrie' Reject Israel-Ireland Deal

Irish government offers MV Rachel Corrie ship to divert to Israeli port of Ashdod instead of Gaza; Foreign Ministry: Israel doesn't want a confrontation with the Gaza-bound ship.

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Passengers on board the MV Rachel Corrie ship have rejected a proposed agreement made between the Israeli and Irish governments to divert the ship to the Israeli port of Ashdod instead of the coast of Gaza .

Following the passengers' rejection of the agreement, the forum of seven high ranking ministers decided to go ahead with the plan to stop the ship and take it over, as was done with the previous Gaza flotilla.

Over the last few days the Foreign Ministry has been trying to come to a diplomatic solution with the organizers of the ship, under the Irish government's mediation.

The MV Rachel Corrie. Credit: AP

During negotiations, the ship's passengers emphasized that they were willing to undergo a security check by the Israel Defense Forces in the ocean to verify there were no weapons on the ship, but demanded they then be allowed to pass to the coast of Gaza .

Israel refused, and demanded the security check take place in the Ashdod port and that the ship's cargo would be transferred from there to the Gaza Strip, under the supervision of passengers and Irish diplomats.

Ireland 's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin, issued a statement on Friday on the failed agreement.

"On Friday morning, an understanding was reached with the Israeli government whereby the Rachel Corrie would have approached the Israeli exclusion zone before accepting diversion to the Israeli port of Ashdod . At Ashdod , the cargo would have been unloaded and inspected under the supervision of UN and officials from the Irish Aid Division of my Department.

"The entire cargo, including what is understood to be 550 tonnes of cement, would then have been transported to Gaza . Two persons from the Rachel Corrie would have been permitted to accompany the cargo to the Israeli border crossing into Gaza at Erez.

"In my view, such an arrangement would have offered a useful precedent for future humanitarian shipments, pending the complete lifting of the blockade," he said.

Martin then said that those on board the MV Rachel Corrie, "after careful consideration," rejected the agreement, and emphasized that he "fully respects their right to do so and to continue their protest action by seeking to sail to Gaza ."

He also called on Israel to refrain from using force on the passengers of the Rachel Corrie ship.

"If, as is their stated intention, the Israeli government intercepts the Rachel Corrie, the Government demands that it demonstrate every restraint. Those on board the Rachel Corrie have made clear their peaceful intentions and have stated that they will offer no resistance to Israeli forces. Based on these assurances, there can be no justification for the use of force against any person on board the Rachel Corrie."

Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Friday emphasizing that Israel does not want a confrontation with the Gaza-bound ship the MV Rachel Corrie.

"We have no desire for a confrontation. We have no desire to board the ship. If the ship decides to sail the port of Ashdod , then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it," said the Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal.

The MV Rachel Corrie is headed directly for the Gaza Strip with hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid and is expected reach Israel 's 20-mile exclusion zone within the next day, a spokesman for the pro-Palestinian group organizing the mission said on Friday.

" Israel is prepared to receive the ship and to offload its contents.After an inspection to ensure that no weapons and war materials are on board, we are prepared to deliver all of the goods to Gaza ," the Foreign Ministry's statement read.

"Representative of the people on board and relevant NGOs are welcome to accompany the goods to the crossings. We will work with the UN and international organizations to ensure that all the goods are used for the benefit of the people of Gaza ."

The Foreign Ministry's statement was issued following a discussion between the ministers of the forum of seven on Friday afternoon in Jerusalem . The statement seems to hint that Israel 's attempts at coming to a resolution with the ship's passengers have reached a dead end.

According to a government source in Jerusalem , Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the foreign ministry's director-general Yossi Gal to invite the foreign press and to issue the statement, in order to make Israel 's stance perfectly clear to the ship's passengers and to the international community.

The MV Rachel Corrie had initially planned to reach the Gaza Strip sometime this week, despite an Israel Navy raid on the first six ships in the humanitarian aid convoy on Monday that left nine people dead and several more wounded.

Despite reports that the 1,200-ton ship was heading back to Ireland due to technical difficulties involving its two accompanying vessels, Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman Greta Berlin said the ship was on schedule and had no plans to stop in any port along the way.

Free Gaza's legal adviser, Audrey Bomse, earlier Friday said that the ship was planning to return to Ireland in the coming days due to Israel's "sabotage" of the two passenger boats meant to carry journalists. Bomse told Army Radio that the vessels sustained such serious technical damage while docked in Greece last weekend that they would not be able to sail for weeks.

Bomse was quoted by Army Radio on Friday as saying that the ship would only attempt to breach the Gaza blockade once accompanied by the two passenger vessels. She also said that the activists would refuse any diplomatic solution offered by Israel.

The legal adviser reportedly told Army Radio that her movement's goal was not just to bring aid to Gaza, but to send a message to Israel. Activists would not stop sending these ship to Gaza until Israel agree to lift its blockade, the radio quoted Bomse as saying.

The Rachel Corrie's trip to Gaza is sponsored by two non-governmental organizations, from Ireland and Malaysia. On board is Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and former United Nations deputy secretary-general Denis Halliday. Also on board are Malaysians from a group sponsored by the former prime minister of Malaysia.

The ship was to have been part of the flotilla that was stopped at sea early Monday morning, but was delayed due to the technical problems. Its cargo includes cement and medical equipment such as a tomograph (CT ), as well as toys and printing paper.



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