Shun Gaza flotilla participation, Canadian foreign minister urges


TORONTO (JTA) — Canada’s foreign minister has "strongly" urged against Canadian involvement in an international aid flotilla slated to leave for the Gaza Strip in late June.

John Baird called the planned aid flotilla "provocative and, ultimately, unhelpful to the people of Gaza."

"I strongly urge those wishing to deliver humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip to do so through established channels," Baird said in a statement issued May 28.

Baird’s warning comes amid reports that an umbrella group representing about 100 Canadian organizations says it is planning to send a Canadian boat,  named the Tahrir, to the Gaza Strip as part of the second international Freedom Flotilla.

The foreign minister’s words come nearly a year after Israeli Navy commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of an international aid flotilla bound for Gaza, killing nine Turkish activists and drawing worldwide condemnation.

This time, the flotilla is to comprise some 15 ships from several countries.

Baird said 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."

 A more "legitimate and constructive" way to help the people of Gaza, he suggested, is to donate to the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent.

Baird added that "Canada continues to call for the immediate return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas for almost five years, to his family in Israel."

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