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Irish Free Gaza ship heading toward Gaza coast and...

by Ivan Watson and Talia Kayali and... Saturday, Jun. 05, 2010 at 6:10 AM

"Despite the tears and sobbing at Istanbul's Fatih Mosque on Thursday, many of the people gathered for the activists' funeral called this week a "victory," because it brought international attention to Israel's 3-year blockade of Gaza. Turkey, once Israel's closest Muslim ally in the Middle East, has accused Israel of committing an act of international piracy." and " It has also been reported that the angle of some of the entry wounds indicates that the victims were shot from above. This suggests the Israelis did shoot from the helicopters as the activists have stated and as Israel has denied."

Irish Free Gaza ship heading toward Gaza coast

CNN) -- The MV Rachel Corrie, an Irish cargo ship that passengers say is loaded with humanitarian aid for Gaza, is 150 miles away from the Palestinian territory and will arrive there on Saturday, according to the Free Gaza movement, which owns the vessel.

Nineteen people, including activists and crew members, were aboard the vessel and were determined to reach Gaza in spite of the Israeli naval blockade, passengers told CNN.

"We're not prepared to turn around," said Irish Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire, who is aboard the ship. "We are prepared to go straight to Gaza."

Where the ship will go once it nears Gaza remained unclear.

"We will stay within the international waters," said Maguire. "If Israel refuses that we get into Gaza and insists on boarding our boat, then we will sit down as non-violent activists. We will be very peaceful. We will not resist the Israeli navy coming aboard, arresting us and taking us by force to Ashdod, but we will not turn around. We will keep going."

Former Assistant U.N. Secretary-General Denis Halliday, also aboard the Rachel Corrie, also said the passengers had no plans to confront the Israelis.

"We will stand back and show we are harmless and unarmed -- we will put up no resistance," he said. "We're not going to make any silly mistakes."

RELATED TOPICS

Israel has offered to unload the vessel's cargo in its Ashdod port, screen the material and deliver it to Gaza, but there were fears of another high-seas confrontation. Monday, Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla of six Gaza-bound ships -- which activists said were on a humanitarian mission -- leading to the deaths of nine people.

Organizers say the ship is carrying 550 tons of cement to help in the effort to rebuild schools, homes and other buildings destroyed in Gaza.

Maguire said the ship is also carrying "tons" of writing materials donated by Norway, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment -- including wheelchairs -- donated by Scotland, and toys.

Israel says it needs to have its naval blockade of Gaza to stop weaponry from being transported to militants there intent on attacking Israel.

An Israeli government official, who spoke on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, told CNN the government is offering to receive the ship's cargo, as it has offered other vessels, if it docks at Ashdod's port.

That was the same deal rejected by the flotilla before the Israeli commandos raided one of them Monday.

Violence erupted on one of the ships, leading to the deaths of nine people, all Turkish citizens -- including one of dual Turkish-American nationality, as well as many injured people. Israel said its commandos were attacked and passengers said the troops assaulted them.

On Friday two Turkish ambulance planes left for Israel to treat and transport five wounded Turkish citizens back to Turkey, the country's state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Other Turkish activists on the ship have returned from Israel to a hero's welcome.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Thursday that the once-close Turkish-Israeli ties "will never be the same. This incident has left an irreparable and deep scar."

Thousands of angry people attended a mass funeral in Istanbul for the victims and chanted slogans against Israel.

Tensions among Palestinians are also simmering.

"Ongoing provocations and systematic discrimination against Palestinians signify Israel's continuous disrespect of international law and human rights and destabilize the region," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Friday.

The tensions have sparked security concerns within Israel.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN there would be a heightened police presence to keep the peace. Restrictions have also been placed on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, preventing men younger than 40 from praying there, he said.

The violence also sparked official and grassroots rage from capitals and street protests outside the Middle East on Thursday. South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel.

At the United Nations, the Security Council called for an inquiry of the flotilla raid and the Human Rights Council voted for a probe, but Israel says it alone -- and not an international entity -- should be investigating.

Mark Regev, the Israeli prime minister's office spokesman, said after military operations, it is Israel's "standard practice" to carry out "a prompt, professional, transparent and objective investigation in accordance with the highest international standards."

The Israel Defense Forces Military Advocate General -- the body that ensures the military upholds the rule of law -- said in a report that the interception of the Gaza flotilla was legal under international law.

The body said international law allows a country to stop a vessel in international waters if it attempts to breach a naval blockade -- even before such a blockade is actually breached.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio on Thursday that members of the flotilla were carrying large amounts of cash, a suggestion that people on the ship had untoward and not humanitarian intentions.

Organizers have said the Rachel Corrie left Ireland laden with educational materials, toys and medical equipment along with the cement in the latest effort by peace activists to deliver humanitarian goods and break Israel's blockade.

Earlier Thursday, a Free Gaza Movement activist told CNN that the ship delayed its voyage while it was being equipped with video and satellite devices to to record what is happening on the vessel.

Adam Shapiro, Free Gaza board member, said the additions to the ship were being made for safety purposes.

Free Gaza activist Derek Graham has said the plan was for the Rachel Corrie to be unloaded in Gaza and then return to Ireland.

"We're just hopeful the Israelis will let us make a small gesture for the people of Palestine," Halliday said. "Because we believe Monday was a gross error."

He added that Monday's confrontation resulted from "faults on both sides," saying the effort on the Rachel Corrie is a "different ball game."

-----



Autopsies reveal 9 men on Gaza aid boat shot, 5 in head

By Ivan Watson and Talia Kayali

June 4, 2010 10:45 a.m. EDT

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) -- Autopsy results by forensics experts in Istanbul revealed that all nine of the men killed by Israeli commandoes aboard the humanitarian convoy that had planned to dock in Gaza died of gunshot wounds.

The autopsy results give clues about how the violence unfolded after Israeli commandoes stormed the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in the pre-dawn hours on Monday.

Five of the men died with bullet wounds to the head, said Dr. Haluk Ince, the director of Istanbul's Medical Examination Institute, said Friday.

One casualty, a 19-year-old dual national Turkish-American citizen named Furkan Dogan, was found to have bullet wounds in his head and multiple bullets in his body, Ince said.

According to the U.S. State department, Dogan was born in Troy, New York and had been living in Turkey. American diplomats have been extending consular services to the deceased's family.

Video: Heroes' welcomed home in Turkey

Video: Gaza relies heavily on international aid

In one case, Ince said, a gunshot victim had been shot at at extremely close range.

"From the analysis of the bullet distance on one of the bodies," Dr. Ince said, "the gun was fired between 2 and 14 centimeters' distance from the victim's head."

In one month, the forensic report will be submitted to an Istanbul prosecutor's office. There have already been petitions from families of Turkish activists this week, submitted to state prosecutors to sue the government of Israel on charges of murder.

The dead activists were treated like fallen heroes at a mass funeral held at Istanbul's Fatih Mosque on Thursday. Crowds gathered in a courtyard, below the domes of the centuries' old Ottoman mosque, in front of the coffins, which were wrapped in Turkish and Palestinian flags. In one case, a flag from the Palestinian movement Hamas lay over a casket.

"We will remember this, what Israel did," said a young Turkish volunteer named Muhamed Sahin, who was helping hold back the surging crowd. "Everybody has to learn what is going on in Gaza, on the ship, what Israel did."

Periodically, the crowd chanted "Israel, terrorist" and "Damn Israel."

The bodies of the 9 dead, as well as more then 460 surviving passengers from the convoy arrived at Istanbul airport before dawn on Thursday. They were treated to a hero's welcome, particularly Bulent Yildirim, the chairman of the Islamist, fiercely pro-Palestinian Turkish charity the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH). IHH was one of the main groups organizing the blockade-busting flotilla.

In remarks to the press, Yildirim said his colleagues fought Israeli troops in self-defense aboard the Mavi Marmara. He added that in the early stages of the clashes, his activists captured several Israel commandoes, as well as their weapons, and took them below decks.

The Israeli troops were given water, Yildirim said. He insisted none of the activists fired the captured Israeli guns.

Israeli officials have accused the protesters of firing captured weapons during the battle at sea. The Israeli military has also shown images of a commando being beaten with a plastic chair, as well as photos of knives, metal poles, slingshots and marbles as evidence that the Mavi Marmara was a "ship of hatred" full of terrorist sympathizers rather then a "love boat" filled with peace-loving human rights activists.

"The defense of the boat was quite well organized," said Espen Goffeng, a 38-year-old activist from Norway who sailed aboard the Mavi Marmara. "There was a plan to keep soldiers off the boat."

Goffeng said passengers aboard the lead ship Mavi Marmara at first successfully repelled Israeli troops on boats. Then, he said, soldiers began their helicopters assault on the vessel.

"They started off with some kind of paintball bullets with glass in them that left terrible soft tissue wounds. And then rubber bullets. And then live ammunition afterwards. And that's when things started to get really dangerous," Goffeng added.

Despite the tears and sobbing at Istanbul's Fatih Mosque on Thursday, many of the people gathered for the activists' funeral called this week a "victory," because it brought international attention to Israel's 3-year blockade of Gaza.

Turkey, once Israel's closest Muslim ally in the Middle East, has accused Israel of committing an act of international piracy.

"From now on, Turkish-Israeli ties will never be the same," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Thursday. "The incident has left a deep and irreparable scar."

According to a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Ankara has issued 3 demands to Israel: apologize for the raid, organize an independent investigation, and lift the blockade of Gaza.

-----

Even these two reports from CNN can not hide Israel’s latest crime against humanity. General Joe

-----

It has also been reported that the angle of some of the entry wounds indicates that the victims were shot from above. This suggests the Israelis did shoot from the helicopters as the activists have stated and as Israel has denied. GJ



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