Canadian FM warns of involvement in Gaza flotilla 30May11 May 31, 2011

Ma’an News Agency -  30 May 2011

Canada’s top diplomat on Sunday warned against the country’s involvement in a new aid flotilla that organizers say will leave in June for the blockaded Gaza Strip, calling the efforts “provocative.”

“I strongly urge those wishing to deliver humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip to do so through established channels,” Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said on Sunday.

“Unauthorized efforts to deliver aid are provocative and, ultimately, unhelpful to the people of Gaza,” he said.

But organizers, in a statement issued Sunday in response to a call from the UN secretary-general, reminded, “We are not engaged in illegal activity in the in the Mediterranean; it is Israel’s blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians that is illegal.”

Through a spokesperson on Friday, Ban called “on all governments” in the region to use to their influence to push against the new flotilla of ships expected to try to break Israel’s continued blockade on Gaza.

“We would remind the Secretary-General that the flotilla violates no international laws or laws of the sea and so an outright ban on our sailing to Gaza is essentially a statement against the rights of the Palestinian people to control their own ports, and lives,” organizers say.

On May 31, 2010, Israeli marines stormed the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of an international aid flotilla bound for Gaza, killing nine Turkish activists in international waters and drawing international condemnation.

Baird’s warning comes amid reports that a group representing about 100 Canadian organizations says it plans to send a Canadian boat to the Gaza Strip as part of the second “Freedom Flotilla” — this time comprising some 15 ships.

“Canada recognizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns and its right to protect itself and its residents from attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including by preventing the smuggling of weapons,” Baird said.

Israel has long claimed that attempts to breach the naval blockade are political rather than genuinely humanitarian.

It has also offered to transfer any bona fide aid shipments directly to Gaza, provided it can inspect the cargo to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas and other militant groups.

In a major Middle East policy address, US President Barack Obama on May 19 urged both Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a two-state solution on the basis of Israel’s borders before the 1967 six-day war, something that Israel has emphatically rejected.

Canadian media reports said Prime Minister Stephen Harper successfully objected to any mention of Israel’s 1967 borders in the final declaration of the G8 summit, which ended Friday in Deauville, France.

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