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MV Rachel Corrie heads for Gaza

After some confusion over its whereabouts, it has been confirmed that the Irish-flagged MV Rachel Corrie is heading for Gaza. Sailing in international waters the vessel is carrying humanitarian aid and is expected to arrive in Gaza on Saturday unless it is intercepted and hijacked by the Israeli navy before it can reach its intended destination.

Jenny Graham, one of the members of the Free Gaza Movement on board the ship, told Aljazeera.Net that they are about 170 miles off the coast of Gaza and denied that the Rachel Corrie has strayed into Israeli territorial waters.

Graham confirmed that no communication has been received from the Israeli authorities and also stressed that the ship is carrying humanitarian aid only. She said that the crew and passengers want no confrontation with the Israeli navy and have high hopes of being allowed to deliver the aid to the people of the besieged territory.

Nineteen people are on board the Rachel Corrie, including five Irish citizens, among them Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan and Denis Halliday, who oversaw the United Nations humanitarian assistance programme to Iraq in 1997 and 1998, and six Malaysians. The crew is a mix of British, Korean and Filipino sailors.

The Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen, and his Foreign Minister, Michael Martin, have appealed to the Israeli government to allow a safe passage for the Rachel Corrie. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has stressed the duty upon Israel to respect the ship which sails under the Irish flag.

However, Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have said that they will not allow any vessel to take international aid to the people of the Gaza Strip. Israel Radio quoted Netanyahu as saying that the ship will be diverted to the port of Ashdod where it will be subject to inspection by the Israeli authorities.

Sources in the Israeli Navy have confirmed that preparations are under way to intercept and board the ship, as happened with the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on Monday. Reports in the Jerusalem Post say that some of the commandos who stormed the Turkish ship are expected to take part in a similar operation against the Rachel Corrie.

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