Libyan charity wants to avoid angering Israel

Foundation says it will drop "advocacy for political and human rights reform" after involvement in high-profile political endeavors.

December 16, 2010 18:06
2 minute read.
Loading Libyan aid ship AP 311

Libyan Aid Ship Loading AP 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

CAIRO — A charitable foundation led by the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi says it wants to avoid political activities that anger Israel and focus on humanitarian work.

The foundation led by Seif al-Islam Gadhafi announced Wednesday that its priority is assisting the poor in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the foundation has been involved in high-profile political endeavors including the release of terminally ill Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison and an attempt to thwart Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

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A statement by the foundation on Wednesday said it will drop "advocacy for political and human rights reform" after board members voiced concern over criticism by Israel supporters about the foundation's activities.

"The Gadhafi Foundation received some negative criticism because of perceived political overtones after an incident involving the supply of humanitarian aid to the citizens of Gaza," it said, quoting board member Richard J. Roberts, British biochemist and a 1993 Nobel laureate.

It said the decision to break with politics was supported "unanimously" by board members, including Gadhafi's son, at a meeting in London.

"I am confident that this shift will allow us to direct our efforts to the most important areas in which we work improving people's lives in some of the poorest areas on earth," said Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, the foundation chairman.

The statement didn't make clear what the foundation would do with ongoing projects in Gaza, such as the 50 million dollars allocated to new housing in the Hamas-run Palestinian strip and small-scale projects for 800 families, or a health clinic in the West Bank.

The 38-year-old Gadhafi junior was a key figure in improving Libya's relations with the United States. He also has been a vocal critic of Libyan politics dictated by his father and has actively promoted the adoption of a constitution.

In November, Libya Press — a news agency that is part of the foundation — was subject to government backlash when 10 of its journalists were detained after criticizing the Libyan leadership. They were later released but Libya Press relocated its offices from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, to London.

Holding no official post, Seif al-Islam has grown in prominence in recent years, directing economic reforms and playing a major role in negotiations that restored Libya's ties with the West after decades of isolation.

That fueled speculation he was being groomed to take power after his 68-year-old father steps down or dies, although he has denied such plans. And in August 2008, he made a public announcement saying that he is officially withdrawing from politics.

However, a year later, Seif al-Islam appeared hand in hand with convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was released by Scotland on compassionate grounds and returned home to Libya. Al-Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, had served eight years of a life sentence for the Dec. 21, 1988, bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 259 people on board.

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