Death toll rises to 6 after Israeli navy shoots Palestinian divers off Gaza

Israeli naval commandos seized an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip on May 31, killing at least nine and wounding dozens, and sparking protests and condemnations around the world.

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By Janine Zacharia
Tuesday, June 8, 2010; 4:19 PM

JERUSALEM -- The bodies of two more Palestinians, whom the Israeli navy shot dead at sea, washed up on the Gaza Strip's shore Tuesday, bringing the death toll from the incident to six.

On Monday, the Israeli navy fired on a group of Palestinians in wet suits who the Israeli military alleged were en route to carry out an attack inside Israel.

The divers were members of a violent affiliate of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, known as the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a spokesman for one of the brigade divisions said. The spokesman for the group's Palestine division said the divers were on a training mission, unarmed and operating in shallow waters 250 meters from the Gaza coastline.

The Israeli military, in a brief statement, said its forces had fired upon "a squad of terrorists wearing diving suits on their way to execute a terror attack." The statement did not provide specifics of what was planned or say whether the divers had weapons.

The incident comes as Israel remains under international pressure to lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip after the May 31 interception of an aid flotilla by the Israeli military in an operation that left nine activists dead. One of the dead was a U.S. citizen of Turkish descent, and the rest were citizens of Turkey, which has denounced the raid and responded by further distancing itself from Israel, a longtime ally.

The raid on the flotilla has drawn widespread criticism of Israel from around the globe and prompted the United States to urge Israel to reconsider its blockade of Gaza.

On Monday, Israel allowed jam, shaving razors and the Palestinian sweet halva into the enclave, and a Palestinian coordinating committee was told that spices including coriander and cardamom would be allowed in starting Thursday.

"What we're seeing is tinkering with the policy, and we're certainly pleased that jam is no longer considered a threat to Israeli security,'' said Sari Bashi, director of the Israeli non-governmental organization Gisha, which tracks movement and access problems faced by Gazans.

There was no sign of an easing of a ban on raw materials for construction.

Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli army, said that Israel does not maintain a master list of what is allowed into Gaza and what is prohibited and that whether or not certain products, such as spices, enter the strip depends on whether the Palestinians request them.

Also Monday, Vice President Biden traveled to Egypt and met with President Hosni Mubarak at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh. The two discussed "new ways to address the humanitarian, economic, security and political aspects of the situation in Gaza," according to a White House statement.

In the statement, Biden called the current situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip "unsustainable for all sides," adding that it "is vital to make progress in the proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians to enable the parties to move to direct negotiations as soon as possible."


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