(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
tense Turkish-Israeli ties, Israeli officials said on
Organizers of the ship, whom Israel has linked to Hizbullah,
said in Tripoli on Thursday that the ship – carrying women and
would set sail on Sunday from Lebanon, despite warnings that it would
allowed to use a Cypriot port.
Analysis: The flotilla fiasco
'Viva Palestina Gaza flotilla to sail'
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.
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
the passengers will be deported to their country of origin,” Kyriacos
Kouros said Cyprus has a “moral and legal responsibility” to those
allowed into its waters, and that a blockade-busting ship could endanger
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
leaving from Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus.
But Samar al-Hajj, the
organizer of the Mariam
has been threatening to dispatch it for Gaza since
early June, was undeterred on Thursday. She said the ship would set out
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
port in Tripoli, where security forces prevented the group from speaking
media from the ship.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jerusalem said the
so-called “humanitarian” nature of the boat was belied by the
of coordination with either the UN or the Palestinian Authority.
spokesman said that Israel would stop the vessel from reaching Gaza, and
“prepared for all possibilities.”
IDF sources said that the navy would
intercept the ship if it attempted to reach Gaza, and would operate
assumption that hostile elements could be aboard.Yaakov Katz and AP
contributed to this report.