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Israeli raid may not change US policies

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By Barry Schweid
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Amid the uproar over Israel’s deadly raid on the flotilla bringing aid to the Gaza strip, it’s important to note what is not happening.

The White House does not expect the violent incident to sink already-minimal relations between Israel and the Arab world. Arab support would be essential to the long-sought Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.

Nor is the United States, unlike most of the world, chastising Israel for forcibly halting an aid flotilla bound for Gaza.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has not questioned Israel’s motives in trying to enforce its three-year-old blockade of Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organisation.

The aim, he pointed out at a briefing Tuesday, is to keep weapons, not food, out of the territory.

At the White House briefing, Gibbs said the US is “working to improve the humanitarian conditions” in Gaza. At the same time, he stressed the administration was “greatly supportive” of Israel’s security and “that’s not going to change”.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also did not call for an end to the blockade, but she pressed Israel to allow greater access to humanitarian relief supplies.

In New York, meanwhile, the deputy US ambassador to the United Nations, Alejandro Wolff, suggested to reporters that the flotilla “may have been intended to provoke”.

The impact on efforts to promote a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians may be minimal.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a meeting with President Barack Obama to return home to deal with the aftermath of the raid, he spoke three times with the president.

US mediator George Mitchell is due back in the region Wednesday and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ June 9 White House meeting with Obama has not been cancelled.

The raid provoked some angry rhetoric from Turkey, and seemed to threaten Israel’s historic warm ties with Ankara. But the long-range impact on Israeli-Turkish relations may be limited.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan furiously told parliament Tuesday that the “bloody massacre” of at least four Turkish activists among nine passengers slain by Israeli naval commandos was a turning point in the long-standing alliance.

“Nothing will be the same again,” Erdogan said, gesturing angrily, his voice shaking at times.

But Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc took a softer tone. “We will find a solution within law and diplomacy,” he said. “No one should expect us to declare war on Israel over this.”

When Obama telephoned Erdogan Tuesday, according to the White House, the US president said it was important to find better ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza while not undermining Israel’s security.

Gibbs, meanwhile, suggested Obama’s strenuous effort to build ties to Arab countries would not be damaged.

“In terms of our relationship with the Muslim world, I think the president has obviously spent a lot of time on improving our relationship with countries throughout the world, and special time and care on our relationship with the Muslim world.

“I do not think that this will have a great impact on that,” he said.