Gaza Blockade Source of International Dispute

Monday, June 07, 2010

Egyptian protesters wave Palestinian flags with a Free Gaza slogan as they face riot police during a demonstration in front of Foreign Ministry headquarters in Cairo on May 31, 2010. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty)

Tensions continue to mount off the coast of Gaza, where Israeli naval forces shot and killed four alleged members of a militant group. Meanwhile, the international community is pushing for an investigation of last week's naval raid.

Israeli naval forces shot and killed four men wearing wet suits in the waters off the coast of Gaza Monday. A militant group, Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, said they were members of its marine unit training for a mission, according to reports in the Associated Press.

Monday's was the latest escalation in tensions over the 3-year-old blockade of Gaza. Last week, Israeli military raided a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies and hundreds of activists protesting the closure of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory. In a clash on one of the flotilla boats, Israeli soldiers killed nine activists, bringing fierce international condemnation and new pressure to ease the blockade. On Saturday, Israel commandeered another aid ship without incident. All 19 activists on board, including a Nobel Peace laureate, and the crew were deported on Sunday.

Egypt, a longtime supporter of the blockade, opened its border with Gaza last week following the deadly conflict. On Monday, an Egyptian security official declared the blockade of Gaza a failure and said his country will keep its border with the Palestinian territory open indefinitely. Keeping that crossing point restores a link to the outside world for some of Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians.

Vice President Joe Biden said Monday the U.S. is closely consulting with Egypt and other allies to find new ways to "address the humanitarian, economic, security, and political aspects of the situation in Gaza." He spoke in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has proposed an international probe into the raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla. But Israel has thus far rejected the idea. Speaking with Fox News on Sunday, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, said Israel is "rejecting the idea of an international commission."

"We are discussing with the Obama administration the way in which our inquiry will take place," Oren told the station.

Turkey's foreign minister, the country under which the flotilla was flying, has called on Israel to accept the probe. Nine Turks, including a 19-year-old boy who held dual Turkish-U.S. citizenship, were killed in the raid in the international waters of the Mediterranean. Speaking on the sidelines of a 20-nation security summit, Ahmet Davutoglu said the international community was facing a serious test.

"Does a country have the right to intercept a ship in international waters or not?" Davutoglu was quoted by the Associated Press as saying at a news conference in Istanbul.

Turkey, which had a solid alliance with Israel until the three-week Gaza war that ended in early 2009, has said it would reduce military and trade ties and has shelved discussions of energy projects, including natural gas and fresh water shipments. The country has threatened to break ties with Israel unless the country apologizes for the raid last week.

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