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As MV Rachel Corrie draws nearer, Israel mulls easing Gaza blockade

After a week of intense international criticism for its raid on the Gaza 'Freedom Flotilla,' a senior Israeli official told the Monitor the government may ease the blockade that the MV Rachel Corrie is now drawing fresh attention to.

By Staff writer / June 4, 2010

In this May 12 file photo, Derek Graham uses a bottle of Palestinian olive oil to officially name the cargo ship the MV Rachel Corrie, named after a human rights activist killed by the Israeli military, before it departed from Dundalk, Ireland, for the Middle East with a cargo of cement and supplies for Gaza.

Niall Carson-pa/AP/File

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Tel Aviv, Israel

The MV Rachel Corrie, carrying another group of pro-Palestinian activists seeking to challenge the Gaza blockade, sailed toward a possible clash with Israel in the Mediterranean on Friday. But Israel said it had no desire for a fresh confrontation five days after an Israeli commando raid on the "Freedom Flotilla" resulted in skirmishes with activists wielding metal rods, clubs, and knives. Nine activists were killed.

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"We have no desire for a confrontation,'' read a statement by Israel's Foreign Ministry, though Israeli leaders said the country would continue to enforce a naval blockade. "We have no desire to board the ship.''

Israel has come under intense international pressure to ease a three-year blockade on Gaza after Israeli navy's fatal raid on the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying the bulk of the flotilla's activists and 10,000 tons of aid. A senior US official was quoted in The New York Times as saying not only the US, but Israel, too, has realized that the Gaza blockade has become untenable. Now, as a possible fresh showdown looms, Israel is considering relaxing its restrictions on goods passing into the Gaza Strip.

A senior Israeli official who requested anonymity said that Israel would continue inspect all sea cargo for weapons bound for Hamas, but "we also want to facilitate the transfer of civilian goods to the people of the Gaza Strip. We are currently exploring additional ways to achieve these goals.''

Global support strengthens domestic critics of blockade

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated this week that the blockade is necessary to prevent Iran from establishing a Gaza port through which it can arm Hamas, while opposition leader Tzipi Livni – who was foreign minister when the blockade was imposed in 2007 – says it's meant to pressure Hamas into renouncing violence.

But the intensified foreign calls against the blockade in the wake of Israel's flotilla raid has strengthened domestic critics who had already been arguing for a rethink of Israel's three-year-old policy. Under the policy, only humanitarian food and medical supplies – less than what the UN recommends – are allowed into Gaza.

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