Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Israel must relax blockade of Gaza

Even for a country noted for its steely response to any perceived threat, the military exercise undertaken by Israel against an international aid convoy sailing towards Gaza was a political and security disaster.

At its utmost, the convoy was a two-fingered salute to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. It posed no threat to the state and was as much a propaganda exercise as a pressing shipment of aid.

However, Israel grossly over-reacted, sending commandos to board one of the vessels, a decision which ended with at least nine civilians on the ship being killed and many more injured. Quite rightly, the deaths have provoked a storm of protest around the world and even Israeli allies like the UK and Ireland have summoned that country's ambassadors to explain what happened and to register their protests at the needless deaths.

To compound matters, the deaths occurred on a vessel carrying aid from a Turkish agency with direct links to that country's government. Turkey has been the friendliest Muslim country in the region towards Israel, although relationships have been deteriorating in recent times. They will plummet to a new low after these deaths.

It is vital that Israel now conducts a full, transparent investigation into what happened when the commandos boarded the vessel in international waters. Israelis are notorious for defending their military actions even when it is apparent they went too far. The country will find itself further isolated if it attempts to cover up these deaths.

Of course our immediate sympathies must lie with the relatives of those killed and with those injured. Given that there were a number of Irish people on the convoy, including Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, the mourning could have been on our own doorsteps.

Now there will be vociferous calls for Israel to slacken its blockade on Gaza. To deny ordinary Palestinians the necessities of life is unacceptable, even if there are real security issues in the region.

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