JERUSALEM - Israel vowed Friday to keep an aid ship from breaching its blockade of the impoverished Gaza Strip, appealing to pro-Palestinian activists to dock at an Israeli port and avoid another showdown at sea.
Activists on board the boat, including a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, insisted they would not resist if Israeli soldiers tried to take over their vessel. They said they expected the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie to reach Gaza by late this morning.
Diplomatic fallout and protests across Europe and the Muslim world have increased pressure to end the embargo Israel imposed after the Islamic militant Hamas group seized power in Gaza three years ago.
The Cambodian-flagged Rachel Corrie – named for the former Evergreen State College student who was crushed to death by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting Israeli house demolitions in Gaza – was carrying hundreds of tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.
This latest attempt to breach the blockade differs significantly from the flotilla the Israeli troops intercepted on Monday, killing eight Turks and an American with dual Turkish citizenship after being set upon by a group of activists.
Nearly 700 activists had joined that operation, most of them aboard the lead boat from Turkey that was the scene of the violence. That boat, the Mavi Marmara, was sponsored by an Islamic aid group from Turkey, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. Israel outlawed the group, known by its Turkish acronym IHH, in 2008 because of alleged ties to Hamas. By contrast, the Rachel Corrie was carrying just 11 passengers, whose effort was mainly sponsored by the Free Gaza movement, a Cyprus-based group that has renounced violence.