Navy set to stop Libyan aid ship

Captain claims destination is Egypt; organizers insist it's Gaza.

By
July 14, 2010 06:31
A Palestinian boy holds a poster of Libyan leader

Libya ship rally 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The navy was gearing up on Tuesday night to intercept a Libyan cargo ship that was on its way to Gaza Port in an effort to break the blockade on the Strip.

Based on the ship’s speed Tuesday, if it continued toward Gaza, a navy interception was likely to take place early on Wednesday morning.

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Israel army reported early Wednseday morning that the ship had been delayed due to an engine failure.

On Tuesday morning, the navy made initial radio contact with the ship and urged the captain to change his course and sail to El-Arish in Sinai. Navy missile ships were closely tracking the cargo ship, which on Tuesday evening was sailing about 6 knots an hour and was 120 km. from El-Arish and 145 km. from Gaza.

Twenty-one people are on the ship from a number of countries, including Libya, Haiti, Syria, Algeria, Nigeria and Cuba. The captain, a Cuban named Antonio, spoke by radio with one of the navy ships and said that contrary to claims by the Libyan organization behind the voyage, he planned to sail it to El-Arish.

The navy said it did not have intelligence indicating that the ship was carrying weapons, but was suspicious and therefore would continue to track the ship until it was clear that it was sailing to Egypt. In addition to the ships at sea tracking the vessel, teams of commandos from the navy’s Flotilla 13 – known as the Shayetet – were put on standby in case they needed to seize the ship to prevent it from reaching Gaza.

At the same time, the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, responsible for the 92- meter vessel, said the Moldovan-flagged Amalthea – which left Greece on Saturday carrying 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies – refused to alter its course for El-Arish and insisted it would steam on for Gaza.



Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office went on the public diplomacy offensive against the Libyanbacked ship, drawing attention to a volunteer on it having said Muslims “love martyrdom,” and highlighting Libya’s long ties to terrorism.

The ship is expected to enter Israel’s territorial waters on Wednesday, and Jerusalem’s proactive public diplomacy is obviously intended to prepare international opinion in the event that Israel commandeers the vessel just as it did the six ships that set sail for Gaza in late May.

Nine men on board the Mavi Marmara were killed on May 31 after Flotilla 13 commandos rappelled onto it from helicopters and were attacked.

The public diplomacy supplements the more traditional diplomacy with which the Foreign Ministry has been involved in recent days, including trying to get the international community to stop the ship from sailing for Gaza. Jerusalem is also in realtime contact with Washington and major European capitals regarding how it plans to deal with the vessel.

 

Netanyahu holds security consultations discussing ship


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held a number of security consultations on Tuesday discussing the matter.

He was quoted as saying that there was no need for this ship, and that there was no civilian blockade of Gaza. He said that all cargo could go into Gaza through the Ashdod port after being checked by Israel, or it could go into Gaza through Egypt after being checked by the Egyptians at El- Arish.

On Tuesday, one of the owners of the Amalthea said that the crew would unload its humanitarian goods at El- Arish if refused permission to reach Gaza.

“If this is the only option put forward by the Israeli authorities, we will choose to sail to the port of El-Arish and transfer the assistance by ground to Gaza,” Greek businessman Aleksei Angeolopoulos said in an interview with the Londonbased Arabic newspaper Asharq Alawsat.

Angeolopoulos said the ship was “carrying humanitarian aid and food and there are no weapons or prohibited materials, as claimed by Israel.”

He added, “If Israel wants, the Israeli navy is invited to board the ship and to search it so that they can see with their own eyes that it is only carrying food and allow it to continue to the port of Gaza.”

A spokesman in the Prime Minister’s Office said that if indeed the ship was carrying only civilian cargo, there should be no problem with it docking at the Ashdod port.

“We will guarantee that all civilian goods will be allowed in[to Gaza],” the official said.

However, the information put out by the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday painted a picture of a vessel that was interested in far more than just the delivery of rice and corn oil. The packet sent by email included a link to an Al- Jazeera report from Saturday in which a Moroccan volunteer on the ship said, “We as Muslims are not afraid of death. On the contrary, we love martyrdom.”

The packet included a reminder that Libya’s involvement in terrorism was “something wellknown.

Everyone remembers the Lockerbie tragedy, where 270 people were killed when a Pan Am plane exploded [over] southern Scotland in 1988. An international investigation found a direct link between the Libyan government and the terrorist incident, and it even extradited two suspects for planning the attack.”

The information included reference to Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal’s view of the blockadebusting ships as an important brick in bringing about Israel’s delegitimization.

“Breaking the siege is a priority, and we must compel it by all means, including new flotillas which will be organized in the coming weeks and months, with the help of Allah,” Mashaal said in a speech in Damascus on June 28.

“I call on the Arab and Muslim people and other lovers of freedom in the world to multiply the number of participants,” he said.

“Together with us, all freedomloving people around the world have begun to understand how much of a curse Israel is to the world, to its security and interests, and to what extent it is a heavy burden on the interests of both West and East.”

The information sent out by the Prime Minister’s Office also included the cabinet decision last month to ease restrictions on what is allowed into Gaza, the Quartet’s positive reaction to this step, and statements from the US State Department and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressing concern about further ships.

The Foreign Ministry’s legal adviser, meanwhile, has recommended to the IDF that for public diplomacy reasons, it would be preferable to commandeer the ship once it enters Israel’s territorial waters, though intercepting it out of that 20-km. zone would be legal if it were clear that the ship was headed for Gaza.

A similar recommendation was made prior to the May flotilla’s arrival, but that recommendation – according to government sources – was not heeded because of operational reasons. The IDF’s argument in May, according to the sources, was that since that flotilla included six ships, the navy would need sufficient time to commandeer all of them and, as a result, needed to begin the job outside the country’s territorial waters.


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