'Rachel Corrie' Aid Ship Headed Toward Gaza
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council called early Tuesday for an "impartial" investigation of Israel's deadly commando raid on ships taking humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and condemned the "acts" that resulted in the loss of at least nine lives.
After an emergency meeting and marathon negotiations that lasted nearly 12 hours, the 15 council members finally agreed on a presidential statement. It was weaker than what was initially demanded by the Palestinians, Arabs and Turkey because of objections by the United States, Israel's closest ally.
The Islamic nations had called for condemnation of Monday's attack by Israeli forces on the flotilla "in the strongest terms" and "an independent international investigation."
But the presidential statement that was finally agreed to and read at a formal council meeting instead called for "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards." And it only condemned "those acts" that resulted in deaths, without naming Israel.
The long and difficult negotiations were conducted primarily by the United States with Turkey and Lebanon, which are both non-permanent council members.
Turkey, which had been a close Muslim ally of Israel, used some of the harshest language against the Jewish state for launching the raid against the flotilla, which included a Turkish ferry on which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed. Hundreds of activists - many of them Turkish - were taken from the ships to Israel.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country drafted the initial presidential statement, called the Israeli raid "banditry and piracy" on the high seas and "murder conducted by a state."
Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour called it a "war crime," and told an open Security Council meeting that "those fleets, one after the other, will be coming until the unethical blockade is put to an end and the suffering stops for our people."
Organizers of the six-ship Gaza aid flotilla stopped by the Israelis said they would be sending two more ships to challenge the blockade within the next few days.
The Irish Times reported on the next planned ship, the 'Rachel Corrie,' which is "due to arrive in Gazan waters tomorrow."
The vessel became separated from the main aid flotilla after being delayed for 48 hours in Cyprus due to logistical reasons. Nobel laureate Maireád Corrigan-Maguire, former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, and husband and wife Derek and Jenny Graham are the Irish nationals on board.
Speaking from the ship today, Mr Graham said the vessel was carrying educational materials, construction materials and some toys. "Everything aboard has been inspected in Ireland," he said. "We would hope to have safe passage through." [...]
Ms Maguire said none of the aid ships carry arms and are "purely humanitarian". She said it was necessary for the vessel to complete its mission to assure the people of Gaza the world does care.
"Their port has been closed for over 40 years . . . 1.5 million people, it's like the population of Northern Ireland, totally cut off from the world by this inhumane illegal siege of Gaza . . . their borders are closed . . . there is a shortage of medicines," she said.
"Could you imagine if that happened to the 1.5 million people in Northern Ireland, the world would be absolutely crying out that this stop immediately."
The Toronto Star added:
The MV Rachel Corrie, a converted merchant ship bought by pro-Palestinian activists and named after an American woman killed in the Gaza Strip in 2003, set off on Monday from Malta, organizers said. It was carrying 15 activists including a northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate. "We are an initiative to break Israel's blockade of 1.5 million people in Gaza. Our mission has not changed and this is not going to be the last flotilla," Free Gaza Movement activist Greta Berlin, based in Cyprus, told Reuters.
An Israeli marine lieutenant, who was not identified, told Israel's Army Radio his unit was prepared to block the ship.
"We as a unit are studying, and we will carry out professional investigations to reach conclusions," the lieutenant said, referring to Monday's confrontation in which his unit shot nine activists aboard a Turkish ferry.
While the Palestinians and Turks insisted that the activists on the ships were delivering aid to impoverished Gazans suffering under a three-year Israeli embargo, Israel's deputy U.N. ambassador Daniel Carmon said "this flotilla was anything but a humanitarian mission."
Some activists have "terrorist history" and its organizers support radical Islamic groups such as Hamas, which controls Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel's existence, he said.
Carmon defended the legality of Israel's blockade and the boarding of the ships - which refused repeated calls to send their cargo to Gaza through Israel - as "a preventive measure." He called the results "tragic and unfortunate."
After the presidential statement was read, both sides immediately disagreed on how the investigation would be conducted.
Mexico's U.N. Ambassador Claude Heller, who took over the council presidency from Lebanon at midnight, said "impartial" meant "independent" and that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has the responsibility to organize the investigation. He also said it was clear the condemnation referred to the "excessive force" by the Israeli military.
The Palestinians' Mansour said almost all the members of the Security Council support Heller's interpretation. He said the Palestinians and Arabs would press the secretary-general to pursue an independent investigation.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said he doubted the potential "objectivity" and independence of such a U.N.-sponsored investigation.
"Considering the countries that support this option, we have every reason to fear for its independence," Palmor said Tuesday on French radio France Inter.
U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said Heller's interpretation is "not our understanding" of the wording regarding an investigation.
"The secretary-general called for a full investigation, and we believe the Israelis are capable of conducting a full investigation," he said. He added that as far as condemnation the United States did not want to "prejudge any outcomes, or prejudge any conclusions."
The presidential statement also "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries" and requests the immediate release of the ships and civilians being held by Israel. It urges Israel to permit consular access and allow countries to retrieve their dead and wounded immediately.
The council also urged Israel "to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the convoy to its destination" and stressed that the situation in Gaza "is not sustainable."
Council members reiterated "their grave concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and stress the need for sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance through Gaza."
Mansour said this was "the clearest statement by the Security Council on lifting the siege against the Gaza Strip."
While the Palestinians and their supporters would have liked a stronger statement, Mansour praised the entire council, including the U.S., for "acting in a responsible way" and allowing the council to adopt a statement.
A presidential statement - read by the council president at a formal meeting - must be approved by all 15 members and becomes part of the Security Council's official record. But it is not as strong as a council resolution which can demand that countries take specific actions, impose sanctions and authorize military operations.
On the broader Mideast, the statement adopted early Tuesday expressed support for the U.S.-sponsored indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.