Navy preps for Libyan flotilla

Ship is determined to break Gaza blockade, not sail to Egypt.

Amalthea 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Amalthea 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The navy went on high alert Sunday as activists behind a Libyan-backed ship that set sail from Greece the day before expressed determination to sail directly for Gaza, and not El-Arish in the Sinai, in an attempt to break Israel’s naval blockade.
Defense officials said the navy was tracking the ship and had put forces on standby in case it needed to board the vessel, as it did when confronted with the Gazabound flotilla in late May.
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Violent resistance aboard one of those ships, the Mavi Marmara, left nine Turkish activists dead.
The navy, the officials said, would make contact with the ship while it was still far from Gaza, likely in international waters, and request that it follow naval vessels into Ashdod Port. If it refuses or does not agree to sail to Egypt, Israel has prepared plans to commandeer it.
Government officials called the entire episode “superfluous.”
“Maybe no one told the Libyans, or the information has not yet reached them, but following the cabinet decision a couple weeks ago, civilian cargo now goes into Gaza,” one official said.
“This exercise is both a superfluous and unnecessary gesture.”
The official said Israel would allow no ship to break the “security envelope” around the Gaza Strip, but added that the organizers could bring the vessel into Ashdod, and that Israel would allow representativesfrom the boat to accompany the cargo – reportedly some 2,000 tons of rice, sugar and corn oil – into Gaza.
The ship is being funded by a charity headed by a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and is expected to approach Gaza early Wednesday morning.
Youssef Sawani, executive director of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, said Sunday in an interview with Army Radio that the vessel was heading for Gaza, although on Saturday, foreign ministry officials from Israel and Greece said the ship was headed for Egypt.
In response to Sawani’s comments, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio on Sunday that “no ship of any kind will be allowed to arrive at Gaza.”
“I hope that common sense will prevail,” Lieberman said. “They can deliver aid for Gaza to El-Arish or Ashdod.”
The foreign minister added that while Israel was not looking for a confrontation, no one would be allowed to undermine the country’s sovereignty.
MK Ahmed Tibi (Ta’al), who has been in contact with the Libyan charity group, echoed Sawani’s claims that the ship, the Moldovan-flagged Amalthea, was headed directly to Gaza.
“The goal is to reach Gaza,” Tibi said.
“There is not only a humanitarian goal, there is a political message.”
In addition to 15 volunteers – all from Libya, except for a Nigerian citizen and a Moroccan national – the ship has a crew of 12 from Cuba, Haiti, India and Syria.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.