Libyan ship docks at Egyptian port

Officials say int'l community worked to divert ship away from Strip.

Libya ship rally 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Libya ship rally 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israeli officials expressed relief and satisfaction Wednesday night that after four days of uncertainty, the Libyan-backed ship Amalthea, carrying cargo for the Gaza Strip docked at the Egyptian port of El-Arish, and did not try to break the naval blockade and sail for Gaza.
Government officials credited the mobilization of the international community for convincing Libya and the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, which supported the ship, not to try to run the blockade and provoke a confrontation with the IDF. The Libyan foundation is headed by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
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“We didn’t do anything dramatically different this time than the last,” one government official said, in reference to the May 31 Gaza flotilla, which included the Mavi Marmara, upon which nine men were killed after they attacked IDF commandos who landed on the boat in an effort to commandeer it.
The official said that Israel’s message to the international community against allowing the boat into Gaza was the same this time, as the last. He said that the difference this time was that the international community decided – apparently because of what happened on the Mavi Marmara and the change in Israel’s policy regarding what is allowed into Gaza – to actively get involved in convincing the Libyans not to go ahead with plans to break the naval blockade.
Statements against bringing cargo into Gaza by sea, made by the US State Department, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and Quartet envoy Tony Blair, were only the public manifestations of feverish diplomatic efforts that took place behind the scenes for days to divert the ship to Egypt, one Foreign Ministry official said.
Ministry officials said that after the ship set sail from Greece on Saturday night, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman worked through third parties to ensure that it would go to Egypt, and that Egypt would allow it to off-load the cargo and, after checking it, send it overland into Gaza.
The officials would not confirm reports that Jewish-Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff was involved in the diplomatic efforts and mediated between Israel and the Libyan fund.
On Wednesday, when it was still unclear what the ship would do, and after it stalled in international waters, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh urged the Amalthea to continue sailing for Gaza, and called for more pro-Palestinian “freedom flotillas.”
“The sea and land convoys must continue,” said Haniyeh. “We hope we can depend on Islamic nations to help us lift the blockade.”
Blair issued a statement Wednesday calling on the ship to avoid sailing directly to Gaza and dock at a neighboring port.
“The most important thing is to avoid confrontation,” he said.
According to Blair, the “established channels for delivering aid to Gaza should be in accordance with the new policy we have been working on.”
Throughout the day on Wednesday, Israel Navy ships followed the Libyan vessel as it passed through international waters off the Gaza coast. IDF sources said that the navy continued to “keep an eye” on the ship, even when it was in Egyptian waters, to ensure that the crew would not try and trick Israel and sail into Gaza Port.
Yusef Sawan, the head of the Libyan foundation, told AFP that eight Israeli warships shadowed the freighter through the day, four on either side, to prevent it from heading to the Gaza coast.
“Out of concern for the security of everybody on board, the foundation decided to head for El-Arish,” he said.
Navy negotiators warned the ship’s Cuban captain that he would be held responsible for anything that happened if the vessel defied the navy’s clear directions and tried to sail for Gaza.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.