Ship saga: Israel hails peaceful end

2010-06-05 16:10

Jerusalem - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday hailed the peaceful ending to a standoff between the navy and Gaza-bound foreign aid ship the Rachel Corrie, which was carried off without violence.

But the navy's move to commandeer the aid-laden cargo ship prompted a furious response from the pro-Palestinian organisers, who accused Israel of "hijacking" the boat.

"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 organised by violent Turkish terror extremists," Netanyahu's office cited him as saying.

The reportedly peaceful ending to the early morning confrontation came in stark contrast to a botched navy operation against a fleet of six aid ships earlier this week, which ended in the death of nine activists, most of them Turkish.

Monday's violence took place on just one of the ships - a Turkish-owned passenger vessel carrying more than 600 passengers which was run by the Turkish Islamic charity, IHH.

Israel's takeover of the Rachel Corrie prompted an angry response from the Dublin-based Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which accusing the Jewish state of "hijacking" the Rachel Corrie and abducting its passengers.

"For the second time in less than a week, Israeli forces stormed and hijacked an unarmed aid ship, kidnapping its passengers and forcing the ship toward Ashdod port," it said, also noting that those on board were believed to be unharmed.

Netanyahu said naval forces involved in Saturday's operation had followed exactly the same procedures as they had done earlier in the week - but the difference lay in the attitude of the activists on board the vessel.

"On the ship today, as was the case in five out of six ships on the earlier flotilla, the process ended without injuries," he said.

"The difference was on one terror-supporting ship, where extremist Islamist activists were waiting our soldiers on the deck with axes and knives."

Israel, he said, would continue to defend itself by preventing weapons from reaching the Hamas-rulers of Gaza. "We will not allow an Iranian port to be established in Gaza," he said.

Israeli forces boarded the Rachel Corrie earlier on Saturday after it refused to respond to four requests from the navy to head for the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, and continued on its course for the Gaza Strip.