A ship carrying aid from the Iranian Red Crescent Society will leave June 27 on a voyage through the Suez Canal to the Gaza Strip, said Abdolrauf Adibzadeh, the relief group’s head of international affairs.
The vessel will depart from the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, loaded with 1,100 tons of supplies, Adibzadeh told reporters in Tehran today. Five Red Crescent representatives and five journalists also will be aboard, he said.
Those making the trip aren’t looking for a confrontation with Israel and will travel without an escort from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps or another military force, Adibzadeh said. Their ship, rented from a private Iranian company, “will respect international laws,” he said. “We aren’t seeking adventurism.”
The mission was announced after nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists, including one who also held U.S. nationality, were shot dead May 31 when Israeli commandos raided their boat in international waters. The vessel was one of six in a flotilla attempting to breach Israel’s three-year-old blockade of Gaza, the coastal strip ruled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government doesn’t recognize Israel, condemned the raid on the ship as “shameful“ and “criminal.” Israel said it issued numerous warnings to the flotilla to change course and unload at the port of Ashdod, before it seized the vessels.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment today on how Israel will respond if the Iranian ship approaches Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on June 2 that there were no shortages of food or medicine in Gaza.
“If the ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards want to send a ship, clearly this has nothing to do with humanitarian assistance,” Palmor said in a phone interview. It is “another attempt to wreak violence from the people who bought you Hezbollah, suicide bombings and the bloody repression of the Iranian opposition.”
Adibzadeh said the Red Crescent “may negotiate with other organizations” to deliver the aid, should Israel block it.
In January 2009, Israel prevented an Iranian Red Crescent vessel from reaching Gaza. The ship was sent after a three-week Israeli offensive against Hamas. More than 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict and many Gaza homes and government buildings were leveled.
Red Cross List
The Iranian Red Crescent’s latest cargo has been chosen from a list of goods needed in Gaza as determined by International Committee of the Red Cross, Adibzadeh said. The Iranian group is a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
There will be 50 tons of medication and the rest is food and hygiene goods, including rice, cooking oil, canned tuna, flour, water, blankets, soap and laundry detergent, he said. The vessel, named “the ship of Gaza children,” will also deliver clothing and toys, he said.
“Providing people in Gaza with aid is one aspect, but it is not sufficient,” Adibzadeh said. “Most important is to help them by seeking to end the blockade on Gaza.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a June 14 report, called on Israel to end the blockade, saying it subjected Gaza’s civilian population to “collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.” The organization also urged those with “an influence on the situation, including Hamas, to do their utmost to help Gaza’s civilian population.”
Food Allowed In
Israel agreed two days ago to allow all food items and a wider range of building supplies into Gaza by road, while banning materials that might be used for attacks on its territory. The naval blockade remains in place.
Israeli officials say they must prevent shipments from entering Gaza without first checking them for weapons that may be used against the country’s southern towns and cities, which have come under attack from rockets. Israel says more than 400 rockets have been fired from Gaza into its territory since the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, killing one foreign worker.
Middle East envoy Tony Blair said yesterday that humanitarian aid groups have no reason to try to reach the Gaza Strip by sea, after the Israeli government agreed to loosen the blockade following international criticism.
Hamas, Palestinian Authority
The Hamas government’s economy minister, Ziad Zaza, dismissed Israel’s relaxing of the blockade as “nonsense,” saying Israel was trying to reduce international pressure on it. The Palestinian Authority’s deputy economy minister, Abdel Hafiz Noufal, from the government that administers the West Bank, called it “a good step forward, but not enough.”
For the past three years, Israel has allowed only about 100 basic food products and consumer items into Gaza, while banning such goods as chocolate, jam, potato chips and shaving cream.
Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, ousted forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group and seized full control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.