New Gaza-bound Aid Ship May Agree to Dock and Unload in Ashdod

Humanitarian aid vessel, the Rachel Corrie, delayed due to technical problems; Passengers include a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former UN deputy secretary-general.

A diplomatic solution seems imminent to allow the humanitarian aid vessel the Rachel Corrie to dock without incident at the Ashdod Port. According to European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials in Jerusalem, quiet messages have been exchanged over the past few days between Israel and the group operating the ship, to allow it to dock.

The ship is expected to arrive by the weekend.

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 Rachel Corrie
(Free Gaza)

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

The European diplomats and senior Foreign Ministry officials said Israel had been communicating with the organizers of the ship through the Irish government. The Irish Foreign Ministry also conveyed messages from Halliday, one of the organizers, to the Foreign Ministry.

The most recent messages from Halliday were said to be particularly encouraging. Halliday said the ship intended to reach Gaza, but the 15 passengers aboard pledged that if the Israel Navy stopped them, they would not use violence and would obey instructions. In addition, senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said that talks between the parties have been good, and that the ship might sail directly to Ashdod to off load its humanitarian cargo, which would be sent directly to the Gaza Strip.

Kid gloves in Dublin

The ship does not belong to the Irish government, and therefore Dublin has been handling the issue with kid gloves. However, in addition to conveying messages between Israel and the ship's organizers, Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin told the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Zion Evroni, that Ireland would take diplomatic steps if Israel took over the ship.

Senior Irish Foreign Ministry officials told the Israeli envoy that government policy was that the ship be allowed to reach Gaza, because Ireland opposes the blockade of the Strip. Evroni told the Irish that Israel does not seek a conflict with the passengers on the Rachel Corrie; however, Israel asked that they sail to Ashdod and off load there for security inspection before the cargo is sent to Gaza.

Evroni was harshly criticized yesterday by members of the Irish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee after he canceled a scheduled appearence before the committee. The Irish media reported that Evroni was to have appeared before the committee today, but had suddenly announced that due to unforeseen circumstances he would not be able to attend.

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael Woods called Evroni's last-minute cancellation "almost without precedent" and "most disappointing."