JERUSALEM — Pro-Palestinian activists sent another boat to challenge Israel’s
blockade of the Gaza Strip and Egypt declared it was temporarily opening a
crossing into the Palestinian territory after a raid on an aid flotilla that
ended with Israeli soldiers killing nine activists.
The raid provoked ferocious international condemnation
of Israel, raised questions at home, and appeared likely to increase pressure
to end its blockade that seeks to keep Iranian-backed Hamas from building its
arsenal of weapons but has also deepened the poverty of the 1.5 million
Palestinians in the strip.
Turkey, which unofficially supported the flotilla,
has led the criticism, calling the Israeli raid a “bloody massacre”
and demanding that Washington condemn the raid. The White House has reacted
cautiously, calling for disclosure of all the facts.
The pro-Palestinian flotilla had been headed to
Gaza with tens of thousands of tons of aid that Israel bans from Gaza. After
days of warnings, Israel intercepted the flotilla under the cover of darkness
early Monday, setting off a violent melee that left nine activists dead and
dozens of people, including seven soldiers, wounded. Most of the dead were
believed to be Turks.
Israel said 679 people were arrested, and about 50
of those had left the country voluntarily. Hundreds who refused to cooperate
remained jailed and subject to deportation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s
spokesman, Mark Regev, indicated Israel would consider ways to ease the
blockade to allow more goods into Gaza – a policy that has been quietly under
way in recent months.
“We have been expanding the assistance that
has been going into the Gaza Strip – both the volume and the variety of goods –
and we have ongoing dialogue with the international community.
But he stressed that Israel could not end the
blockade, fearing that Hamas would ship rockets and other weapons into the
area. “We cannot have unfettered naval cargo going into the Gaza
Strip,” he said.