Defying Israel, Aid Ship Heads to Gaza

The Irish-flagged cargo ship the Rachel Corrie is expected off the waters of Gaza by Friday evening and those onboard remain determined to deliver their aid directly to the people of Gaza, according to a spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement.

"Under no circumstances will we be pulling into [the Israeli port] Ashdod. We are not stopping anywhere. Our mission is to break the blockade," Audrey Bomse of the Free Gaza movement told ABC News.

Israel still says the ship must not pass and it will be directed to sail into Ashdod where Israeli authorities will transfer the aid to Gaza overland.

VIDEO: Furkan Dogan, 19, was one of the nine people killed by Israeli commandos.
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Denis Halliday, a former UN diplomat, spoke to ABC News by satellite phone from the Rachel Corrie Thursday night. "We are anticipating they will intercept us. Normally that means a radio communication before that happens and then we will be prepared to demonstrate we are unarmed and relatively harmless. We will cooperate as much as we must," he said.

The ship carries cement for reconstruction, as well as paper for Palestinian schools and medical supplies.

Activists expressed concern that if Israel took control of the vessel it would not allow the cement to go to Gaza. Under the blockade only very limited amounts of cement are allowed in. Israel says it fears Hamas may use it to build military-style fortifications.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said he fears if there is free naval access to Gaza Iran will arm Hamas with long-range rockets.

"Missiles that arrive in Gaza today, will be fired at Israel tomorrow," Mark Regev, a senior spokesman for the prime minister's office, told ABC News.

In Jerusalem, Israeli police are on high alert in response to a call for a day of rage against Israel's bungled raid on the flotilla of aid ships Monday.

Age restrictions have been placed on Muslim worshippers wishing to attend Friday prayers in Jerusalem. Police helicopters circle over the Old City in search of stone-throwing youths.

President Obama: Middle East Peace Talks Must Continue

Speaking on CNN's Larry King Live Thursday night, President Obama said he wanted the U.S.-sponsored proximity peace talks to continue despite the crisis.

"I think what's important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity," Obama said.

The U.S. has stopped short of condemning Israel for its actions this week but is pushing for Tel Aviv to conduct a full and independent investigation with international involvement.

It is also widely reported that Washington is unhappy with the blockade of Gaza. Friday's edition of the Israeli daily Haaretz says Netanyahu is now considering loosening the blockade in its scale and scope.

Meanwhile Israel's once-cordial relations with Turkey are in free fall. Ankara's deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc said Friday, "We may plan to reduce our relations with Israel to a minimum."

Eight of the nine victims of Israel's raid were Turkish and their coffins were carried through the streets of Istanbul Thursday by angry crowds.

The ninth victim was American-born student Furkan Dogan, who Turkish authorities claim was shot dead at close range.

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