Bildt urges renewal of Gaza ceasefire

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on Sunday praised a fresh call by the United Nations Security Council to halt the violence in Gaza.

“I welcome that the UN Security Council has now demanded an immediate halt to all military activities to and from Gaza,” Bildt said in a statement.

The comments come as Israeli air strikes in Gaza continued for a second day in response to repeated mortar attacks launched by Palestinian militants.

By Sunday, an estimated 280 Gaza residents had been killed and 600 injured by the Israeli strikes, according to the New York Times newspaper.

Bildt also noted the importance of the Security Council’s recognition of the “serious economic and humanitarian situation” facing Gaza’s population and that the body calling for measures to “ensure the people can receive food, fuel, and medical help”.

“Both Hamas and Israel ought to, against this background, declare as quickly as possible that they are willing to return to their earlier ceasefire and halt all combat operations,” said Bildt.

Bildt also called for border crossings to be opened to allow international aid and other supplies to reach “Gaza’s hard stricken people”.

The foreign minister’s comments come a day after he characterized the Israeli attacks as “a serious continuation of the heightening of tensions” which began when Hamas just before Christmas decided not to renew a six-month ceasefire.

“Even if the ceasefire didn’t live up to expectations – not least when it came to easing the Israeli blockade of Gaza – it would have been better for everyone if it had continued to be respected,” said Bildt.

“We strongly urge both parties to exercise moderation and to as soon as possible return to the ceasefire.”


Israel intercepts Swedish Gaza-bound activist boat

The Israeli navy intercepted a Swedish-flagged activist boat bent on breaching its more than decade-long blockade of Gaza, the second in less than a week, the military said on Saturday.

Israel intercepts Swedish Gaza-bound activist boat
Photo: TT

“The ship was monitored and was intercepted in accordance with international law,” the military said in a statement, before the vessel, named Freedom for Gaza and carrying 12 people, was taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

“The (military) clarified to the ship’s passengers that they are violating the legal naval blockade and that any humanitarian merchandise can be transferred to Gaza through the Port of Ashdod,” the statement said.

The people on board were taken for “further inquiry.”

The organisers of the flotilla said the boat, which was carrying medical supplies, was intercepted in international waters.

“The demands of Ship to Gaza are that the ship with its crew and cargo will be returned to the site of the boarding, and that they will be allowed to go in peace through international and Palestinian waters in accordance to international law,” they said in a statement.

“This is a demand that the eleven years-long illegal and destructive blockade on Gaza will be lifted at last.”

Freedom was the second boat of the “Freedom Flotilla” to be intercepted en route to “break the blockade” on Gaza, organisers said.

Four boats left from Scandinavia in mid-May and stopped in some 28 ports along the way, with two remaining behind after a recent stop in the Italian port of Palermo.

On Sunday, the Israeli navy intercepted a Norwegian-flagged activist boat that was part of the flotilla.

Israel has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2008 and says the blockade is necessary to keep them from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes.

UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas where 80 percent of the two million population are dependent on aid.