NEW YORK – The Obama administration is pressing Israel to allow into the Gaza Strip new activist flotillas setting sail from Europe, according to an official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office speaking to WND.
Separately, an Israeli government official said the White House asked Netanyahu for concessions in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in exchange for U.S. opposition to the establishment of a United Nations commission to investigate Israel’s commando raid of a flotilla earlier this week that resulted in the deaths of nine violent activists.
Previous U.N. commissions investigating the Jewish state were seen as biased against Israel, including a probe earlier this year that claimed Israel carried out war crimes during its defensive war in Gaza in 2009 targeting the Hamas terror group.
The Israeli government official also told WND that Netanyahu canceled a scheduled meeting with Obama earlier this week after the White House sent signals to Israel that the timing was not good for a meeting in light of the flotilla incident.
News media widely reported Netanyahu canceled the meeting to deal with the fallout of the flotilla.
Israel maintains a naval blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza, fearing if it allows ships to reach the territory, Hamas will be able to transport weaponry for use against Israelis.
Israel and the international community numerous times have stopped ships loaded with weapons destined for Gaza.
Despite claims by activists, Israel does not block humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel allows a large number of trucks daily to enter Gaza with food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. Israel transfers monthly into Gaza tens of millions of dollars worth of Israeli shekels to ensure the flow of cash in the territory.
Israel imposed a blockade on certain supplies it fears could be used by Hamas to build a military infrastructure.
Netanyahu yesterday told an emergency meeting of his defense cabinet the blockade must be maintained to keep weapons from reaching terrorists.
“Opening a naval route to Gaza will present an enormous danger to the security of our citizens,” he said.
Prior to its raid of the flotillas earlier this week, Israel asked the ships’ commanders to dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod so customs officials could inspect the cargo for weapons while transferring any aid into Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israel has charged that dozens of activists on the flotilla it raided were connected to Islamic terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida-linked groups.
One of the flotilla passengers is the former Melkite Greek archbishop of Jerusalem, Father Hilarion Capucci, who was previously arrested for using his church car service to smuggle explosives, firearms and katyusha rockets into Israel for the PLO. Capucci was freed after an appeal from the Vatican.
Another passenger was Sheik Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement. Salah was recently freed from Israel prison after he was convicted of raising funds for Hamas. Salah’s Islamic Movement is heavily connected to Hamas and to the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
Israel’s Geneva ambassador, Aharon Leshno Yaar, stated yesterday the Turkish-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, or IHH, the Islamic charity that organized the convoy, “has publicly professed connections to Egypt’s Islamic Brotherhood and the Hamas, and has been a central actor of fund raising and financing terror for Hamas around the world”.
A 2006 report by the Danish Institute for International Studies written by counter-terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann described the IHH as a front for funding terrorist organizations and sending fighters to countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. The IHH denied the accusations at the time.
Yaar added Israel was justified under international law to act against the flotilla.
Netanyahu’s office yesterday decided to free all of the activists, including some it had threatened to try for attacks against Israeli soldiers.
Sources in Netanyahu’s office said the decision to free all detainees was made amid massive international pressure.
The sources said embassy employees from several European countries stationed in Israel, including Britain and Switzerland, personally were present in the holding grounds where the activists were detained. The sources said the embassy employees worked on behalf of the activists to lobby the Israeli government to free all detainees.
Activists on a six-ship flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip shouted anti-Jewish battle cries and spoke of using “resistance” against Israel, with one participant stating she saw only two possible outcomes for the boat occupants – “either martyrdom or reaching Gaza.”
The main flotilla ship was named the MV Rachel Corrie, the namesake of a far-left activist from the International Solidarity Movement who died in 2003 while serving as a human shield to protect a terrorist.
An Al Jazeera news report one day before the raid translated by Palestinian Media Watch documented men on the flotilla chanting, “[Remember] Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!”
The chant is often used at rallies for Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Khaibar is the name of the last Jewish village defeated by Islam’s prophet Muhammad in AD 628. The battle marked the end of the Jewish presence in Arabia.
Al-Jazeera also interviewed a woman on the flotilla who said the participants’ goal was “one of two happy endings: either martyrdom or reaching Gaza.”
WND reported yesterday the commander of the six-ship pro-Palestinian flotilla announced beforehand participants were planning to use “resistance” and declared the ship’s activists wanted to die as “martyrs” more than they wanted to reach the Gaza Strip, according to Hamas television.