Lebanese ship postpones trip to Gaza

"Mariam" organizers ask Greece to allow passage after Cyprus says no.

August 21, 2010 13:15
2 minute read.
Lebanese Samar al-Hajj, one of the organizers of Mariam ship that plans to sail to Gaza.

Lebanon flotilla. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The Mariam, a Lebanese vessel carrying women and journalists with an intended destination of Gaza has postponed its planned journey after Cyprus refused its request to pass through their waters, Army Radio reported on Saturday. The organizers issued a request to Greek authorities in an attempt to circumvent the restrictions.

Under Lebanese law the ship cannot travel directly to the Gaza Strip from Lebanon because Beirut is technically at war with Israel, forcing the vessel to pass through a third country before heading for the blockaded Palestinian territory.

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UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said in letters Friday to the secretary-general and Security Council that Israel reserves the right under international law "to use all necessary means" to prevent the ship from sailing to Gaza to violate the naval blockade.

Shalev said a group of individuals "with suspected ties to the Hezbollah terrorist organization" announced that the vessel Miriam would depart from Tripoli on Sunday en route to Gaza.

Cyprus’s ambassador to Lebanon said that the vessel, the Mariam, would not be allowed to enter a Cypriot port.

“We decided that such a ship will not be allowed to enter Cyprus, and if such a Gazabound ship docks in a Cypriot port the crew and the passengers will be deported to their country of origin,” Kyriacos Kouros said.

Kouros said Cyprus has a “moral and legal responsibility” to those allowed into its waters, and that a blockade-busting ship could endanger lives and “regional peace and stability.”

But Samar al-Hajj, the organizer of the Mariam, who has been threatening to dispatch it for Gaza since early June, was undeterred on Thursday. She said the ship would set out to deliver cancer medication, books and toys.

“We are not children who can be told to stay home,” Hajj said after a chaotic news conference outside the port in Tripoli, where security forces prevented the group from speaking to the media from the ship.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jerusalem said the so-called “humanitarian” nature of the boat was belied by the organizers’ lack of coordination with either the UN or the Palestinian Authority.

The spokesman said that Israel would stop the vessel from reaching Gaza, and was “prepared for all possibilities.”

IDF sources said that the navy would intercept the ship if it attempted to reach Gaza, and would operate under the assumption that hostile elements could be aboard.

Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report.

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