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ISRAEL

Reinfeldt rejects Israeli calls to condemn paper

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt rejected demands from Israel on Monday to condemn claims put forward in an article in a Swedish tabloid about alleged organ harvesting from the bodies of dead Palestinians.

Reinfeldt rejects Israeli calls to condemn paper

The high circulation Aftonbladet daily made the allegations in a story last week,

sparking public outrage in Israel and prompting senior figures in the government to demand that Sweden distance itself from the report.

But Reinfeldt said it was not for the government to comment on the content of every newspaper, stressing that a free press is an integral part of Swedish democracy.

“It’s important for me to say that you cannot turn to the Swedish government and ask it to violate the Swedish constitution,” he was quoted as saying by the TT news agency.

Reinfeldt also rejected the suggestion that the row could undermine his country’s work in the Middle East peace process as the current holders of the EU presidency.

“Political ambitions always risk being used as an excuse to break off contacts or efforts, but I have no reason to believe that (is what is happening) at this point in time and I hope it won’t go down that route,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Swedish prime minister later confirmed the comments.

Meanwhile, around 20 demonstrators gathered in front of the Swedish embassy in Tel Aviv on Monday under a banner reading: “Anti-Semitism under the cover of freedom of expression.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is expected to visit Israel in two weeks time and Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor has said that the incident “will cast a worrying shadow over meetings if it is not resolved”.

Bildt himself was however keen to downplay talk of a diplomatic row when questioned by reporters on Friday.

“We have a very strong state relationship between Israel and our government. We are both open and democratic societies,” Bildt said.

Elisabet Borsiin Bonnier, the Swedish ambassador to Israel, had initially expressed outrage at the article, but Stockholm distanced itself from her remarks several days later, drawing a stinging response from the Israelis.

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ISRAEL

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.

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