JERUSALEM — A new high-seas standoff is expected today as another supply ship manned by pro-Palestinian activists steams toward the Gaza Strip in an attempt to break Israel's naval blockade of the seaside territory.
Israeli military officials are vowing to intercept the Irish boat, but activists and authorities expressed optimism that the showdown would not turn violent like Monday's confrontation with the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel of the earlier flotilla. During that clash, nine activists were killed and dozens were injured, including several Israel commandos.
The latest ship — named Rachel Corrie after an American college student who was crushed to death by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting Israeli house demolitions in Gaza — is carrying just 11 passengers and 1,200 tons of medical supplies and construction materials to help rebuild schools and hospitals in Gaza, according to officials at Free Gaza, the advocacy group organizing the ships.
"Our action is partly to bring needed aid," said Ramzi Kysia, coordinator for Free Gaza. "But the aid we are bringing is a drop in the bucket. What we need is an end to the blockade and to draw attention to the policies that are forcing Gazans into poverty and aid dependency."
Israel, which is still reeling from international condemnation over the deadly seizure of the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, vowed to prevent the latest boat, which carries a Cambodian flag, from reaching Gaza and to force it to an Israeli port.
The governments of Malaysia and Ireland, whose citizens make up the majority of passengers, have called upon Israel to use restraint. Eager to avoid more negative publicity, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the military to do its best to avoid casualties.
Some passengers aboard the Rachel Corrie have said they will not resist a takeover.
Free Gaza rejected Israeli offers to accept the humanitarian aid in Ashdod and transfer it to Gaza by land, saying that Israel has reneged on such promises in the past