This is a major development. The MV Rachel Corrie cargo ship, whose passage to join the Freedom Flotilla may have been delayed because of sabotage by Israelis, is now heading for Gaza — and it has the full support of the Irish government. This is no longer just a question of how easily Israel can trample on the rights of a humanitarian organization.
The Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, has warned Israel that it will face “the most serious consequences” in the event that any harm comes to Irish citizens on board the humanitarian relief vessel.
The cargo vessel is ploughing ahead with its attempt to deliver aid to Gaza despite yesterday’s deadly attack by the Israeli navy on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
Mr Cowen called today called for the immediate establishment of “a full, independent international inquiry into yesterday’s events, preferably under UN auspices”.
He called on Israel to release “unconditionally” Irish citizens who he said had been taken to Gaza by the Israeli authorities and asked to sign papers allowing for their deportation.
Speaking in the Dáil [Ireland's parliament] during Leaders’ Questions, the Taoiseach [prime minister] said the presence of Irish diplomatic personnel in Israel provided “better prospects” that the citizens would be released “sooner rather than later”
“But I will make this point. If any harm comes to any of our citizens, it will have the most serious consequences.”
Mr Cowen said Ireland’s longstanding position was that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was “immoral and counterproductive” and should be ended.
“Israel must listen and respond to the clear concerns of the international community on this issue. To do otherwise will only serve to reinforce the position of the extremists on both sides and jeopardise the hope of achieving some urgently needed political progress in the region, which the current proximity talks represent,” he said.
The Israeli army has warned that it will be stopped if it attempts to enter Israeli waters.
The Rachel Corrie, which has five Irish nationals and five Malaysians aboard, is due to arrive in Gazan waters over the coming days, a spokeswoman for the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign said. It became separated from the main aid flotilla after being delayed for 48 hours in Malta due to logistical reasons, and is currently off the coast of Libya.
Mr Martin, who called Israeli Ambassador Dr Zion Evrony to a meeting yesterday, said the boat should be allowed through peacefully.
Mr Martin said Israel was also obliged to respect its international obligations under the Vienna Convention and ensure Irish citizens have access to full consular support. He also expressed his condolences to the Turkish government and the families of the people killed when Israeli commandos raided the Turkish registered Mavi Marmara aid ship in international waters as it travelled from Cyprus, killing nine people.
Five Irish campaigners – including leading activists Dr Fintan Lane and Fiachra Ó Luain – are being held in the Be’er Sheva detention camp, from where they face deportation. Dr Lane and Mr Ó Luain were on board Free Gaza boat Challenger 1 which was boarded by Israeli forces.
Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that Colonel Itzik Turgeman, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer, speaking before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, hinted that the IDF had sabotaged the engines of all the ships in the Freedom Flotilla other than the Mavi Marmara, saying that “they took care of them.”