'Lebanese ship to sail to Gaza'

Cypriot ambassador to Lebanon says boat will be sent back from Cyprus.

By
August 20, 2010 00:26
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)

A Lebanese vessel trying to break the blockade of Gaza may set sail from Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, a move that would further complicate already tense Turkish-Israeli ties, Israeli officials said on Thursday.

Organizers of the ship, whom Israel has linked to Hizbullah, said in Tripoli on Thursday that the ship – carrying women and journalists – would set sail on Sunday from Lebanon, despite warnings that it would not be allowed to use a Cypriot port.

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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 – in this case, Cyprus – before heading for the blockaded Palestinian territory.

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.”

For this reason, Israeli officials said, the Mariam may try to set sail from a port in northern Cyprus. One official noted the irony of a vessel trying to break the blockade of Gaza leaving from Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.



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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