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Israel: Free Gaza ships "one time" event; Gaza port remains closed

Aug. 24, 2008 6:23 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 24, 2008 6:23 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Israel's last minute decision to allow the Free Gaza boats to enter Gaza waters was a "one time" event, based on evidence that the ships were "purely humanitarian" and carried no weapons, according to the Israeli press.

The Jerusalem post reported that officials at the "highest level" said that the landing of the Free Gaza boats did not "constitute a decision by the government to allow sea access to the blockaded Palestinian territory."

Other media sources in Israel have reported that the decision was made based on a desire to avoid "a public relations disaster," since one of the boats was filled with media crews from around the world.

De facto Palestinian Prime Minister of the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh called the ships' mission a "siege breaking success," and thanked the activists for their courage and perseverance. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also called the crew of the ships to congratulate them on their successful journey.

Sentiment in the Israeli press was different. Since there was no major show down between the activists and the Israeli Navy, one paper said, Israel "took the wind out of the sails of the left-wing activists who were seeking to create a provocation."

Israeli sources say that despite the number of international journalists who accompanied the Free Gaza crew, the boats "received almost no coverage."

The story was, however, picked up by media offices around the world. Major publishers included the LA Times, the London Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, Xinhua (China), the UK Guardian, the Economist, and News International (Pakistan).

The latest Israeli debate around the issue is whether - if they try - the activists will be allowed into Israel so they can fly home.

Reports from the crew indicate that most intend to stay in Gaza for a number of days, and return to Cyprus as they came; by ship.

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