The Irish campaigners aboard a humanitarian aid ship headed for Gaza have vowed to keep going towards an almost certain confrontation with the Israeli military.
The crew of the Irish vessel Rachel Corrie — which includes Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire — last night said they are “very determined to keep going” as they edged closer to Gaza at the end of a three-week journey to deliver aid supplies.
The defiant crew are sailing into the controversial waters following the deadly storming of an aid flotilla by Israeli commandos on Monday.
Confusion emerged yesterday when a board member from the Free Gaza Movement, which is associated with the ship's campaign, said the boat would be turned back and docked to fit surveillance equipment.
However, former UN assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, who is on the vessel, said they are “well on their way to Gaza” and would continue.
Last night the Rachel Corrie was about 250 miles off the coast of Gaza.
It was expected to reach the normal point of interception with Israeli forces, some 100 miles off the coast in international waters, this afternoon.
The Rachel Corrie is carrying 1,000 tonnes of cement, educational materials, toys and medical equipment. On board the 1,200- tonne vessel are 19 people — five Irish and six Malaysian, along with a crew of eight.
Married couple Jenny and Derek Graham are on board, along with Mr Halliday and filmmaker Fiona Thompson from Dundalk.
Yesterday Mr Halliday said their aim was not to provoke but to get the aid to Gaza.
“We are calling on the UN to inspect the cargo and escort us into Gaza and to send a UN representative to sail on board before they enter the exclusion zone,” he said.
However, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would not allow its Gaza blockade to be breached. “No ship will reach Gaza. The Rachel Corrie will not reach Gaza,” he told Israel Radio.
Intensive talks are taking place between Irish government officials and the Israeli authorities.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is seeking assurances that the Rachel Corrie will be allowed through to Gaza unimpeded.
But no verbal or written assurances have yet been provided to the Irish government that would guarantee the ship would not be attacked or forced to land at an Israeli port.
Campaigner Shane Dillon, who was the first of the Irish activists from the attacked flotilla to return home, yesterday appeared before the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs. He said those on board the flotilla had not physically resisted Israeli troops.