Israel vows to block new aid convoy

Israel vowed to block all aid ships heading for Gaza.

Jerusalem: Israel on Tuesday vowed to block all aid ships heading for Gaza as defiant activists said they would launch another bid to smash the Israeli blockade, despite the latest mission ending in tragedy.

As fresh details emerged about Israel`s deadly raid on a fleet of aid ships, which left nine dead and scores injured, organisers insisted they would push ahead with a fresh attempt to reach the besieged Strip -- by the end of the week.

But a senior Israeli official made clear the Jewish state would not tolerate more attempts to breach its blockade of the coastal enclave which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Greta Berlin, one of the founders of the Free Gaza Movement which was involved in planning the aid convoy, insisted that Monday`s bloody showdown would not deter activists bent on getting aid into the tiny strip of land flanking the Mediterranean coast.

"Nobody should have been killed. But what`s certain is that we won one of the battles -- and we won the diplomatic day," she said.

"We knew what the risk would be and we will continue to run these flotillas," she said to a news agency, saying another attempt would be made to reach Gaza by the end of the week.

"The Rachel Corrie will probably be there within the week," she said, referring to a huge cargo ship carrying 12,000 tonnes of aid which is currently just to the east of Italy.

Berlin said organisers were working on plans for a new flotilla which would leave for Gaza after the World Cup ends in July.

But Israel was adamant it would not let any ships through.

"We will not let any ships reach Gaza and supply what has become a terrorist base threatening the heart of Israel," deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai told public radio.

As Israel and those behind the aid flotilla continued to trade blame, the UN Security Council condemned of the storming of the fleet, and called for a "credible and transparent" investigation of the deadly pre-dawn raid.

It also demanded the immediate release of all ships and civilians held by the Jewish state, who number nearly 700.

Lawyers in Israel said on Tuesday they had been given access to detained activists for the first time since the six "Freedom Flotilla" ships were towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod under military escort a day earlier.

"There are more than 500 detainees and between five and eight lawyers, so it will take two or three days to see them all," said Gaby Rubin of the Adalah legal watchdog.

Israel has blamed activists on the Turkish vessel, Mavi Marmara, for the confrontation, saying its troops were attacked as they boarded the ship and that nine passengers were killed in the ensuing fight.

Passengers from the boat, however, had an entirely different story, with one Greek activist on the doomed ship accusing Israel of using rubber bullets, tear gas and Tasers to subdue those aboard.

In Berlin, visibly shaken German activists who were also on board insisted that no passengers were armed with anything more than a few wooden batons.

"Personally I saw two and a half wooden batons that were used ... There was really nothing else. We never saw any knives," former MP Norman Paech, 72, wrapped in a blue blanket, told reporters on his arrival back in Berlin.

"This was an attack in international waters on a peaceful mission ... This was a clear act of piracy," he added.

As the diplomatic furore raged on, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Canada and called off talks at the White House with President Barack Obama, to return home and consult with his security cabinet.

While expressing regret at the loss of life, Netanyahu insisted the Israeli commandos had "defended themselves from a lynching".

But the Israeli press was scathing about the botched operation which sparked a welter of criticism over the failure by the political and military echelons to anticipate such a scenario.

The deadly showdown, which played out on board a Turkish passenger boat carrying more than 600 people, provoked a crisis in Israel`s relations with Turkey -- once its closest Muslim ally.

Diplomatic sources in Ankara confirmed at least four of the dead were Turkish nationals and said Israel had deported 19 others, while holding another 368 others.

Israeli officials said 45 activists were being treated in hospitals across the country, with 20 of them said to be Turkish nationals. Six soldiers were also being treated for injuries sustained in the operation.

The six ships were to deliver some 10,000 tonnes of supplies to Gaza, which has suffered under a crippling blockade imposed by Israel in 2006 and which Egypt has largely backed.

However, following the deadly convoy attack, Egypt said it would open the Rafah border crossing into southern Gaza to allow humanitarian aid into the Strip.

Bureau Report

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