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The United Nations will transfer humanitarian aid supplies to the Gaza Strip from a flotilla of foreign ships that Israel intercepted in international waters on May 31, the world body’s top envoy to the Middle East said.

“The government of Israel has agreed to release the entire cargo to the United Nations in Gaza on the understanding that it is for the United Nations to determine its appropriate humanitarian use in Gaza,” Robert Serry told the UN Security Council today.

Serry said in reference to Hamas, which controls Gaza, that the UN has “reason to believe that the de facto authorities in Gaza will respect the independence” of the agency to aid Palestinians there and in the West Bank. He also said the Turkish owners of the cargo have agreed to the UN’s role.

The UN will begin the transfer of the supplies “as soon as possible,” Serry said, adding that the amount of aid was “modest in scale compared with the needs in Gaza.”

The cargo includes medicine, food and clothing, the Israeli Defense Ministry said today in an e-mailed statement announcing Israel’s agreement to the UN role.

Israel has faced international criticism over the raid by naval commandos on a flotilla of aid ships as well as calls for it to lift restrictions on the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip. The U.S. has declined to join in the criticism of Israel. Criticism within Israel on the flotilla operation has focused largely on the execution of the raid and not the blockade.

Israeli Probe

The incident, which resulted in the deaths of nine pro- Palestinian activists, has led to demands for Israel or others to investigate the raid on the ships that headed to Gaza in an effort to undermine Israel’s blockade of the area. Israel’s Cabinet yesterday approved a public probe into the raid.

Serry said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is continuing talks on establishing a UN-backed investigation of the incident. He said Israeli and UN probes “combined would fully meet the international community’s expectation for a credible and impartial investigation.” The two approaches are “complementary,” Serry said.

Israel said it issued numerous warnings to the flotilla beforehand to change course for the port of Ashdod and unload there. The violence took place on one of six ships in the flotilla.

Iran Plans Shipment

Iran will send a ship carrying aid to the Gaza Strip to try to breach Israel’s blockade, while four Iranian lawmakers plan to visit the Palestinian coastal enclave if Egypt gives them visas, the Persian Gulf country’s Red Crescent Society said yesterday, according to a spokesman who commented by telephone and declined to be identified in line with agency policy.

The Iranian ship loaded with medicine and hygiene goods will leave this week, and a second vessel may be sent at a later date in an attempt to bring volunteers to Gaza, the Red Crescent Society said.

Israel launched an operation in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 which it said was meant to stop the firing of rockets into its territory. More than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict. Since the end of the three-week operation, some 330 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel, killing one foreign worker last March, the Israeli army said.

Israel has been blockading Gaza since Hamas seized full control there in 2007, after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections the previous year. The group is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.

A survey of Israeli Jews published in the Maariv daily on June 2 showed 94.8 percent agreeing that it was necessary to stop the boats, with 62.7 percent saying it should have been handled in a different manner. Only 8.1 percent thought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should resign. The newspaper didn’t say how many people were surveyed or give a margin of error. BW

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