MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem
ISRAEL’S PRIME minister, defence minister and military chief of staff will testify early next month before a commission of inquiry into the botched commando raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza in May that left nine civilians dead and Israeli diplomacy in tatters.
But the next challenge to Israel’s maritime blockade of the embattled Hamas-controlled enclave is expected today.
By yesterday afternoon, the Hope, a Moldovan-flagged ship carrying a crew of 12, nine activists and 2,000 tonnes of supplies, was 120km off the Gaza coast.
An official log filed by the ship’s captain with authorities in Greece says its final destination is El-Arish, an Egyptian port on the northern Sinai coast near the Gaza border.
Israeli military officials said they had made initial radio contact with the Hope. An Al-Jazeera reporter on board said Israeli officials had threatened the ship unless it changed course away from Gaza. The Israeli military denied making threats, but said the vessel would not be allowed through the blockade.
“We asked them what their plans are and to identify who is on the boat. We’re waiting to see if they go to El-Arish as they first said they would. Taking over the ship is the last resort,” an Israeli army spokesman told The Irish Times.
The ship set sail for Gaza last weekend sponsored by the Tripoli-based Gaddafi International Charity and Development Association headed by Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader. Activists on the ship say they have invited the Israeli navy to board the vessel and inspect its cargo before allowing them to proceed.
“No weapons, no guns, no weapons on board,” said a crew member identified only as Angelo in a radio message apparently transmitted to the Israeli navy and broadcast on Israel Radio.
Last month, Israel raised restrictions on hundreds of goods it says will now be allowed through land crossings after inspection, but has vowed to keep the maritime blockade in place. Israel says it needs to inspect goods imported into Gaza in order to stop rockets and other weapons from reaching Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since it overthrew the Fatah forces of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.