Israeli navy boards Rachel Corrie in Mediterranean

Israel's navy boarded a ship carrying aid to Gaza without incident on Saturday, five days after its commandos killed nine people on a Turkish aid ship while enforcing a blockade Washington has called unsustainable.

The Israeli navy, whose actions on Monday triggered an international outcry, took control of the Rachel Corrie and sailed it to the port of Ashdod where it docked on Saturday evening, the Israeli military said.

The cargo vessel had ignored the navy's orders to divert and allow its cargo to be unloaded and inspected before delivery to Gaza.

The military said in a statement: "19 people were on board the boat including eight crew, all of whom will be transferred to the appropriate authorities in the Interior Ministry."

The army said the ship had been boarded "with the full compliance of the crew and without incident".

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said all 19 people on board would be deported within hours.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: "Forces used the same procedures for Monday's flotilla and Saturday's boat but were met by a different response.

"On today's ship and in five of the six vessels in the previous flotilla, (their boarding) procedure ended without casualties. The only difference was with one ship where extremist Islamic activists, supporters of terrorism, waited for our troops on the deck with axes and knives."

Carrying Irish and other activists, the Rachel Corrie -- named after a pro-Palestinian activist killed in Gaza in 2003 -- was the latest attempt to break the four-year old blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza with the stated aim of stopping its Hamas rulers from bolstering their arsenal to fight the Jewish state.

"Israel will continue to exercise its right to self defence. We will not allow the establishment of an Iranian port in Gaza," Netanyahu said.

Kevin Squires, national coordinator of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Dublin, one of whose members was aboard the Rachel Corrie, called the boarding of the boat "another brazen act of Israeli piracy".

A British newspaper reported that autopsy results found 30 bullets in the bodies of the activists killed in the raid on the vessel Mavi Marmara this week. They were all Turks, including one with U.S. citizenship. Ankara's already strained ties with Israel, once an ally, are at an all-time low.

Friends and foes alike have heaped criticism on Israel this week over the blockade.

While the United States, Israel's main ally, has expressed more sympathy than most for its security concerns, it has also spoken of the need for Palestinians in Gaza to receive adequate supplies and signalled that the embargo could not continue in its present form.

"We are working urgently with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other international partners to develop new procedures for delivering more goods and assistance to Gaza," a spokesman for the White House National Security Council said.

"The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed. For now, we call on all parties to join us in encouraging responsible decisions by all sides to avoid any unnecessary confrontations," he added in a statement.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, increased the pressure on Israel, saying the embargo, which had blighted the lives of the 1.5 million people, was illegal and should be lifted.

"International humanitarian law prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and ... it is also prohibited to impose collective punishment on civilians," she said.

Israel stops cement and other materials it says could be used by Hamas for military purposes from entering the territory controlled by the group since 2007. It also stops other goods with no obvious military application.

Hamas, an Islamist group backed by Syria and Iran, is hostile to Israel and does not recognise interim peace agreements signed by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Turkish Anger

Analysts expected Israel, already buffeted by a series of diplomatic storms in the past year, at least to modify the blockade. Netanyahu is considering some form of international role in enforcing an arms embargo, while letting in civilian goods, Israeli officials have said.

Israel has also faced calls for an international inquiry into the incident. Israeli officials have proposed a foreign role in an Israeli inquiry.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Saturday autopsy results on the nine Turkish activists killed in Monday's raid showed they had been shot a total of 30 times, many at close range. Five were killed by gunshots to the head, it said.

Turkish-American activist Fulkan Dogan was shot five times from less than 45 cm (18 inches) away, in the face, the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back, the paper said. Besides those killed, 48 others suffered gunshot wounds and six activists were still missing. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, his popularity on the rise in the Arab world, harangued Israel on Friday about ignoring the biblical commandment "Thou shalt not kill".

"I am speaking to them in their own language. The sixth commandment says 'thou shalt not kill'. Did you not understand?" Erdogan said in a televised speech to party supporters.

"I'll say again. I say in English 'you shall not kill'. Did you still not understand?. So I'll say to you in your own language. I say in Hebrew 'Lo Tirtzakh'."

[Source: By Ori Lewis and Tom Perry, Reuters, Jerusalem, 05Jun10]

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