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Israeli navy boards aid ship bound for Gaza, this time peacefully

By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010; A12

JERUSALEM -- Israeli naval commandos boarded an Irish humanitarian aid ship bound for the blockaded Gaza Strip without incident Saturday and diverted it to an Israeli port, after a similar attempt earlier in the week to intercept a ship from Turkey ended in a deadly melee at sea.

Unlike Monday, when Israeli commandos were violently beaten by passengers as they boarded the Mavi Marmara, activists aboard the Rachel Corrie peacefully greeted the commandos as they climbed aboard. In the incident Monday, Israeli commandos opened fire in self-defense, killing nine activists.

Few had expected a confrontation Saturday, in part because the Irish vessel included 11 passengers and eight crew members, far fewer than the 600 passengers aboard the Turkish vessel. Those aboard the Rachel Corrie included an Irish Nobel peace laureate, a former U.N. diplomat and a best-selling Malaysian author.

The clash aboard the Mavi Marmara brought renewed world attention to Israel's closure of the Gaza Strip, designed to strangle the Hamas government, which is in armed conflict with Israel.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has rejected calls to lift the blockade. Still, in response to U.S. demands, Israel is considering allowing more goods into Gaza and exploring ways to avoid future confrontations by allowing ships to sail to Gaza after having their contents inspected.

"We saw today the difference between a ship of peace activists, with whom we don't agree but respect their right to a different opinion from ours, and between a ship of hate organized by violent Turkish terror extremists," Netanyahu was quoted as saying Saturday.

Organizers of the Free Gaza Movement flotilla promised to return with reinforcements. "We are putting Mr. Netanyahu on notice that we are returning in the next couple of months with another flotilla, that his actions and the actions of his soldiers have energized thousands of people who have stepped forward with offers to help and participate on the next voyage,'' the group said in a statement issued Saturday.

The humanitarian aid aboard the Rachel Corrie was unloaded at Ashdod port, awaiting transfer to Gaza. As of Saturday, Hamas had not agreed to receive the aid from the six ships in the flotilla that arrived Monday.

In Istanbul Saturday, demonstrators chanted anti-Israel slogans, and Turkish media reported that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, riding high at home because of the Marmara incident, was considering participating in an aid flotilla.

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