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Officials: Netanyahu Considers Easing Gaza Blockade

  • David Dyar

Israeli officials say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering ways to ease the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, facilitating the entry of civilian goods while continuing to enforce an arms embargo.

The officials, quoted by Israeli and U.S. media Thursday, said Mr. Netanyahu's government remains determined to search every ship heading for the Palestinian enclave but is ready to allow an international naval force to participate in the inspections.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday the U.S. is consulting other nations on possible ways to increase the flow of humanitarian goods into the coastal strip while protecting Israeli security needs.

Also Thursday, the U.S. confirmed that a 19-year-old U.S. citizen of Turkish origin, Furkan Dogan, was one of nine pro-Palestinian activists killed during Monday's deadly Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. In an interview on CNN cable television Thursday night, U.S. President Barack Obama called the incident "tragic".

At least 10,000 mourners gathered in Istanbul Thursday at a funeral for eight of the dead, their coffins draped in Turkish and Palestinian flags. Some mourners chanted anti-Israel slogans.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Thursday ties between Israel and Turkey will never be the same following the deadly incident. The country's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Israel is on the verge of losing its "best friend."

Also Thursday, U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry expressed concern over this week's closure of six non-governmental organizations in Gaza by the territory's Hamas leadership. The Gaza-based NGOs said the Islamist movement's security forces raided their offices, confiscating materials and equipment and forcing their closure.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip. He called Israel's long-running closure of Gaza counter-productive and unsustainable.

The six-ship international convoy attacked Monday was attempting to bring 10,000 tons of supplies to the Gaza Strip in defiance of Israel's three-year blockade of the region.

Investigators say at least one victim was shot at close range. Israel has said its commandos opened fire after being attacked.

Another ship carrying humanitarian supplies is expected to challenge Israel's blockade in the coming days. The Rachel Corrie, a converted merchant ship bought by pro-Palestinian activists, is expected off Gaza's coast by Saturday. Prime Minister Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting Thursday that Israel will not allow the aid ship to reach the territory.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell says the incident underscores the need for progress in indirect peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. He commented Thursday from Bethlehem after returning to the region to mediate another round of talks.

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