Israel: We won’t let ship reach Gaza

MK Tibi: Activists on Libyan ship still plan to sail straight to Gaza.

greece aid to gaza 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
greece aid to gaza 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Activists aboard the Libyan commissioned aid ship the Almathea are still intending on sailing directly to Gaza despite Israeli warnings not do so, said MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta'al) in an interview with Army Radio on Sunday.  Tibi has been in contact with the organization sending the ship, the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.
"The goal is to reach Gaza," said Tibi.  "There is not only a humanitarian goal, but there is also a political message."
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Tibi stated that the activists aboard the ship, expected to arrive in the area on Wednesday, "have no intention of physically confronting IDF soldiers."
Israel made clear on Saturday night it would not allow the Moldovan-flagged ship commissioned by a Libyan charity to dock in Gaza, amid conflicting reports about whether the ship was headed for Gaza or the Egyptian port of El-Arish.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement saying that the ship was “an unnecessary provocation,” and it would have been better had it not set sail.
“It is possible to bring merchandise into Gaza, after it has been checked, through the Ashdod port,” Barak said. “However, we will not allow the entrance of arms and ammunition into Gaza. We recommend to the organizers of the flotilla to accompany Israeli naval ships into Ashdod or to sail directly for El-Arish.”
The Amalthea departed on Saturday evening from a port southeast of Athens, carrying 2,000 tons of cargo, including sacks of rice and sugar, and corn oil and olive paste, mostly donated by Greek companies and charities, organizers said.
In addition to 15 volunteers – all from Libya, except for a Nigerian and a Moroccan – the ship has a crew of 12 from Cuba, Haiti, India and Syria.
Greek authorities said on Saturday night that the ship was headed for Egypt. “We confirmed the destination in talks with the Libyan ambassador and the ship’s agent,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said earlier in the day.
But Al-Jazeera, which has a reporter on the vessel, reported that its Cuban captain was indeed headed for Gaza.
The ship is funded by the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, headed by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Barak spoke on Saturday with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman about the issue. Despite numerous rumors about other vessels trying to break the Gaza blockade, this would be the first ship – if it indeed it tries to reach Gaza – to do so since the IDF’s raid on a Turkish vessel on May 31 that left nine people dead.
While Israel has significantly eased restriction on what is allowed into Gaza since then, it has said that the blockade will remain in place to prevent the transfer of arms into Gaza. According to Israeli policy, all ships with goods for Gaza must be checked at Ashdod Port.
“There is no problem in getting civilian supplies into Gaza now,” one government official said. “But the idea that cargo can go into Gaza without being checked is unacceptable.
Israel will enforce that all cargo going into Gaza needs to be inspected, and will not allow a precedent where the security envelope will be broken.”
The official said that as a result of Israel’seasing the restrictions of what is allowed into Gaza, there was now a greater understanding internationally for Israel’s naval blockade.
Foreign Ministry Avigdor Lieberman spoke a number of times over the past few days with his Greek and Moldovan counterparts about the Amalthea, and those conversations left a feeling in Jerusalem, according to ministry officials, that the ship would not sail for Gaza.
On Friday, Israel asked that the UN step up efforts to prevent the ship from setting sail.
In an official letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev asked the international community to use its power to halt the ship.
“Israel calls upon the international community to exert its influence on the government of Libya to demonstrate responsibility and prevent the ship from departing to the Gaza Strip,” the envoy wrote.
“Israel reserves the right under international law to prevent this ship from violating the existing naval blockade on the Gaza Strip,” Shalev told Ban Ki-moon.
“The declared intentions of this mission are even more questionable and provocative, given the recent measures taken by Israel to ensure the increase of humanitarian aid flowing into the Gaza Strip,” Shalev wrote in her letter.
Amalthea’s journey to Gaza was expected to take up to 80 hours, meaning that the ship would arrive at El-Arish or Gaza early on Wednesday morning.
Youssef Sawani, executive director of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, insisted the goal remained to unload the supplies in Gaza. He said the ship would not seek confrontation with the Israelis.
If Israel does not allow the ship into Gaza, the group will seek “any other appropriate destination – El-Arish or other – to deliver the goods to the people in need,” Sawani said.
“I think the Israelis need to understand we are not provoking any kind of action, we are not in military action, we are a peaceful, humanitarian organization,” he said.
MK Tibi confirmed an Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper report that he was helping the flotilla organizers. He said he had given them a list of what was needed in the Gaza Strip, including certain medicines, a special kind of milk and generators for hospitals.
National Union MK Arye Eldad, who like Tibi is a medical doctor, said Israel should insist on transferring the supplies by land.
“Medicine, milk and generators are all good, but they can all be brought to Gaza via Ashdod,” Eldad said. “Tibi is trying to make Israel look bad. He cares about hurting Israel, not about helping Gaza.”

Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report.