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Freedom flotilla ship MV Rachel Corrie continues to head for Gaza

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  • Freedom flotilla ship MV Rachel Corrie continues to head for Gaza

    • Six UK and Irish citizens on ship that Israel says cannot dock
    • Turkey warns it will reduce ties with Israel to a minimum
    • Hamas leader says humanitarian aid alone not enough

    A ship carrying aid to Gaza is still heading for the blockaded territory, despite Israel insisting it will not be allowed to dock.

    The MV Rachel Corrie, which was part of the original Freedom Flotilla intercepted by the Israeli military, leaving nine activists dead, is due to arrive in Gaza at 8am on Saturday, organisers said today.

    Turkey today warned that it would reduce its ties with Israel to a minimum, and the Hamas leader said at Friday prayers in Gaza City that humanitarian aid alone would not be enough to aid the Palestinian cause.

    The MV Rachel Corrie fell behind the original fleet after suffering mechanical problems, but has been sailing towards the Israeli coast since yesterday. There were earlier reports that the ship had turned back, but a spokesman confirmed this morning that it was still bound for Gaza.

    Martin O'Quigley, from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is working with the Free Gaza Movement, said he spoke to two people on board this morning.

    "They're 150 miles from Gaza, and they should be approaching the exclusion zone at 8am tomorrow," O'Quiqley said. "They're about 80 miles from the previous interception point."

    O'Quigley said he had spoken to Máiread Maguire, the Nobel peace prize laureate, and Jenny Graham, from the Free Gaza Movement, two of 11 passengers on the ship.

    The Corrie is attempting to defy the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who said yesterday that the ship would not be allowed to reach the blockaded area.

    "We shall not allow the ships to reach Gaza. Not now and not later on," the Israeli news website ynet reported him as saying. "We intend to direct the Rachel Corrie ship to the Ashdod port and transfer its civilian goods to Gaza following a security check."

    In addition to six British and Irish citizens on the ship there are five Malaysians, including an MP and three journalists, organisers said. Ram Karthigasu, a spokesman for the Malaysian travellers, said he had spoken to them today and confirmed the Rachel Corrie was 150 miles from Gaza.

    The ship is carrying school supplies, printing paper, children's shoes, wheelchairs, sports equipment and fire extinguishers, organisers said. Israel bars cement and other building materials from entering Gaza, saying they are often used for building tunnels to smuggle in weapons and explosives.

    The Corrie is attempting to reach Gaza four days after the Freedom Flotilla was intercepted, leaving eight Turkish nationals and one US citizen dead.

    Speaking at Friday prayers in Gaza City, the de facto Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, told crowds of worshippers that Israel's blockade of Gaza was in its final stages.

    "Now not only Gazans speak of the blockade, but also the [UN] security council and the international community. Everyone is demanding the siege be lifted."

    As a result of its assault on the aid flotilla, Israel was facing worldwide condemnation, he said. But humanitarian aid was not enough, Haniyeh added. "We have had warm words about the pain of Gaza but now we want these words to turn into action. Today we are in a new era of victory."

    He paid tribute to those killed and injured in Monday's operation, saying: "It is not only the Palestinian people who are martyred by the Israeli enemy."

    Turkey's deputy prime minister said today the country would reduce its relations with Israel "to a minimum", as services took place in Istanbul to remember the dead. Bulent Arinc told the NTV broadcaster that Turkey had made many military and economic agreements with Israel, and these were now up for discussion.

    "We are serious about this subject," he said. "We may plan to reduce our relations with Israel to a minimum, but to assume everything involving another country is stopped in an instant, to say we have crossed you out of our address book, is not the custom of our state."

    Barack Obama called for the flotilla incident to be used to advance peace efforts, describing the deaths as a "tragic situation".

    "I think what's important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity," he said in an interview with Larry King yesterday.

    The guardian