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All eyes on a small Irish ship

As the Rachel Corrie motors toward Gaza, Ireland's government expresses its support.

Gaza blockade protests
Palestinians ride boats during a protest on June 3, 2010 at the Gaza Seaport against Israel's interception of of Gaza-bound ships. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

DUBLIN, Ireland — All of Ireland is following the progress of the Rachel Corrie to see if it becomes the little boat that finally breaks the maritime blockade of Gaza. The Irish-owned aid ship is sailing through rough seas in the Mediterranean and is due to reach its destination Friday evening or Saturday morning.

Israel has said it will maintain its embargo on any ship carrying supplies for Gaza except through Israeli channels.

The 1,200-tonne Rachel Corrie was scheduled to sail with the humanitarian aid convoy seized by Israeli commandos Monday but was delayed for mechanical reasons. On board are five Irish citizens including former United Nations Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday and 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire.

“We are the only Gaza-bound aid ship left out here,” Halliday said. “We are determined to deliver our cargo, which includes 1,000 tonnes of cement and 20 tonnes of educational materials and toys, along with vital medical supplies.”

Speaking by satellite phone with The Irish Times, Halliday called on the Obama administration and the European Union to ensure safe passage for the ship. He said that passengers would not put up any resistance if they were boarded and would inform the Israeli authorities by VHF radio that “we have put up our hands.”

Part-owner Derek Graham, a prominent member of the Free Gaza Movement, asserted on Irish national radio that the aid vessel would not be turning back. The Mayo electrician, a veteran of several previous humanitarian missions to Gaza, said they were trying to break the blockade but denied they were supporters of Hamas or any other militant Palestinian group. Rather, his group was intent on helping people “blown out of it” by the Israelis during the war 18 months ago and who had since then been denied material for reconstruction.

The ship also has six Malaysian activists and is sponsored by pro-Palestinian groups in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Malaysia. One of the Irish citizens on board is filmmaker Fiona Thompson and the Malaysian contingent includes a journalist and a television crew.

Irish-Israeli relations are under severe strain over the seizure Monday of the six-vessel aid convoy in international waters, which resulted in the deaths of nine pro-Palestinian activists. Six Irish citizens were on board the flotilla and detained in Israel. This morning, one of the Irish activists detained on Monday was hurt in a scuffle with Israeli security personnel at Ben Gurion airport when being deported to Turkey.

The Irish government has given its full support to the mission of the Rachel Corrie, named after an American activist killed in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer when protesting against house demolitions in Gaza.

“We are in constant contact with the Israeli government on this matter," Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen told parliament in Dublin. The government “is advising absolute restraint in relation to the vessel as it goes about its humanitarian purpose.”

Cowen cautioned, however, that Israel did not regard cement as a humanitarian cargo.

Ireland’s relations with Israel have been under a cloud since the use of forged Irish passports in the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January. The government is expected shortly to expel a security member of the Israeli embassy staff in Dublin over the affair.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/israel-and-palestine/100603/gaza-aid-rachel-corrie