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Middle East

Netanyahu defends Gaza blockade as Israel deports activists

Video by Florence VILLEMINOT


Latest update : 2010-06-02

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended Israel’s blockade of Gaza as essential to its national security and stated that it will remain in force, as Israel deports all 600 foreign activists detained aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

REUTERS - Defending Israel's enforcement of its blockade of Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday it was vital for the country's security and would stay in place.

In a televised address after world outrage erupted over nine deaths in Monday's seizure of a Turkish ship bound for Gaza, a defiant Netanyahu said easing controls would put long-range Iranian missiles into the hands of the Palestinian enclave's
Hamas rulers.

This threatened not just Israel but Europe too, he said.

Turkey, a Muslim country that had been Israel's strategic ally, accused it of "state terrorism" and has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and demanded it lift its blockade.

Those calls have been echoed by European leaders and the United Nations, who also want an inquiry into the incident.

"Once again, Israel faces hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment," Netanyahu said of his international critics, as he defended the actions of Israeli marines who, he said, fired in self-defence after boarding Turkish cruise liner Mavi Marmara.

"The international community cannot afford an Iranian port on the Mediterranean...The same countries that are criticising us today, should know that they could be targeted tomorrow."

His key backer the United States has been less outspoken and has called for calm between its Turkish and Israeli allies.

Dismissing complaints from the United Nations and other agencies on which Gaza's 1.5 million people depend for aid, he said Israel was letting in civilian goods but must halt weapons.

He noted Israel's previous capture of ships carrying arms to its enemies -- Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestinian groups.

Israel said it was deporting all 682 activists from more than 35 countries detained after the assault in international waters on the six ships it commandeered. All but nine wounded prisoners were expected to be gone by the end of the day.


Israel said the marines who rappelled onto the Mavi Marmara, fired in self-defence after activists attacked them with clubs, knives and two pistols snatched from the boarding party.

Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told parliament that two of the activists killed during the takeover were shot after they used the two handguns to wound two commandos.

The captain of the Turkish-flagged Gazze, a freighter carrying the bulk of the aid, said the convoy was 68 miles (110 km) outside Israeli territorial waters when he saw lights in the sea and sky and helicopters approaching.

Israeli commandos then boarded his ship and subdued his crew.

"They pointed two guns to the head of each of us," Captain Huseyin Tokalak told a news conference in Istanbul after Israel released him. There were no casualties on his vessel.

Vilnai said warnings were issued by radio to the six captains that they were entering a "blockaded area" and could instead dock in Israel and unload their aid for transfer to the Gaza Strip. He said the navy had recordings of the captains swearing in response.

"I didn't know there were so many curse words in foreign languages," Vilnai said.

Ahmed Brahimi, an Algerian who said he was on board the Mavi Marmara, told Reuters by telephone from Jordan: "We were not armed. We did not go there to fight."

He added: "We used sticks and all what we could find to defend ourselves to stop the assault."


Turkey said three of the nine dead had been identified as Turks and a fourth had a Turkish credit card. Israel has not named publicly any of those killed.

An opinion poll in Israel's Maariv newspaper showed that more than 60 percent of Israelis believed the interception was flawed operationally. But few question the Gaza blockade.

Israeli military affairs experts have described the assault as a blunder because the strength of the resistance on board was underestimated. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak visited commandos who took part in the raid and told them: "I came in the name of the Israeli government to say thank you."

Another attempt to bust the blockade loomed on the horizon: 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.

It is carrying 15 activists, including a Northern Irish Nobel Peace laureate, and expects to be at the point of Monday's interception between Friday evening and Saturday morning, crew member Derek Graham told Irish state broadcaster RTE.

Asked how Israel planned to deal with any new attempt to steam into Gaza, Tzachi Hanegbi, head of parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said: "We cannot let them blur the red line Israel has set. Letting them in to help Hamas is
not an option."

Egypt, which has kept its own Gaza border largely closed since Hamas, an offshoot of the opposition Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, seized the territory in 2007, reopened the frontier crossing on Tuesday.

The move was widely seen as an attempt to deflect criticism of its blockade, and hundreds of Palestinians flocked to the frontier terminal at Rafah on Wednesday. It is the only Gaza crossing not controlled by Israel.

Date created : 2010-06-02


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