UN chief says Gaza blockade-busting flotilla not helpful

Ban Ki-moon calls for lifting of closure, but believes ships’ attempt to reach Palestinian enclave won’t ease situation, top official says

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Jeffrey Feltman briefing the Security Council at its meeting on the situation in the Middle East on June 24, 2015. (Devra Berkowitz/UN)
Jeffrey Feltman briefing the Security Council at its meeting on the situation in the Middle East on June 24, 2015. (Devra Berkowitz/UN)

The head of the United Nations is against a convoy of ships planning to challenge Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks, because it won’t help ease “dire” conditions in the Palestinian enclave, a top official said Wednesday.

“[Secretary General Ban Ki-moon] continues to believe that a flotilla will not help to address the dire situation in Gaza and reiterates his calls on the government of Israel to lift all closures, with due consideration of Israel’s legitimate security concerns,” Undersecretary General Jeffrey Feltman said at a Security Council briefing.

The statement comes days after Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor called on Ban to condemn the so-called “Freedom Flotilla,” amid preparations by the Israeli Navy to block its three boats from reaching Gaza.

“The international community must send an unambiguous message to the organizers and participants of these provocations that such initiatives only serve to raise tensions in our region,” Prosor wrote. “This attempt to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza holds the potential for dangerous consequences The flotilla’s sole purpose is to create provocations that pose security risks, and constitute a breach of international law.”

Feltman said Ban was “closely following media reports” about the flotilla.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, April 12, 2015 (AFP/Karim Jaafar/al-Watan Doha)
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (AFP/Karim Jaafar/al-Watan Doha)

The attempt to reach Gaza comes five years after an Israeli attempt to block a Turkey-flagged blockade busting boat resulted in a melee that left 10 Turkish activists dead, and Israeli officials have reportedly been working to try to head off a confrontation by asking Mediterranean countries where the boat is docking to not let it depart.

The Marianne of Gothenburg, a Scandinavian fishing boat at the head of the effort, traveled recently from Sweden through the waters of Norway, Germany, France, Spain and Portugal before reaching Messina, Italy, last week. The boat was making its way to Crete, Greece, this week, before attempting to breach the blockade and reach Gaza.

Along the way it was to meet up with at least two other boats that make up the flotilla.

The activists say the vessels are carrying a cargo of solar panels and medical supplies for Gaza residents, who are still recovering from last summer’s conflict, and expect to reach the Strip by the end of the month, unless they are intercepted.

Among those aboard the ship are expected to be Israeli Knesset Member Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List, former Turnisian president Moncef Marzouki, Spanish European Parliament member Ana Maria Miranda Paz and journalists from Qatari news channel al-Jazeera, as well as dozens of other activists.

On Sunday, Ghattas sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon telling them of his plan to be on one of the vessels. He urged them to let the boats reach the Palestinian coastal enclave — or face an international backlash.

‘Deeply concerned over prisoners’


Feltman also said Ban was “deeply concerned” about Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel, naming Islamic Jihad detainee Khader Adnan, who has been on hunger strike for nearly two months to protest his detainment under administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold prisoners without charging them.

The Red Cross on Tuesday said Adnan faced “immediate risk of death.”

Feltman said Ban had also taken note of the release of the UN Human Rights Council’s release of its report into the Gaza war of last summer, which accused Israel and Palestinian groups of possible war crimes.

“It is our hope that this report will contribute to bringing justice to victims of last year’s war and encourage the parties to engage in serious and credible examinations of their own behavior,” Feltman said.

The report has been roundly condemned in Israel as biased and flawed, though Israeli officials said they plan on investigating specific accusations of wrongdoing.

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