Thursday, 22 July 2010

Libyan aid ship vows to break Israeli blockade of Gaza

Vervolgend op Schieten op hulpgoederenvoorzieners

Daily Telegraph 11 Jul 2010 A new confrontation was looming off the coast of Gaza on Sunday night as a Libyan-backed ship pledged to break through the Israeli blockade on the territory.

By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent, and Samer al-Atrush in Cairo The Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation said its ship, which left port in Greece on Saturday, was aiming to reach Palestinian land with its cargo of 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies.

"Our goal is not to provoke a clash, but we intend to go to Gaza," said Yusef Sawani, director of the charity, which is under the control of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son and heir apparent of the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

"This is a humanitarian operation - it has no political objective.  Our ship is carrying food aid, not fighters," he told the Daily Telegraph.

Israel has said it is maintaining its sea blockade of Gaza, while easing restrictions at its land border.  It says the blockade remains necessary to prevent arms being delivered to the militant group Hamas, which controls the territory.

It has offered to allow delivery of the aid items at its own port of Ashdod, but also says it has been assured the boat will avoid confrontation by heading for the Egyptian port of El-Arish.

But Mr Sawani said Israel's claims that an agreement had been reached for the ship to be diverted to Egypt had been denied to him.

"Our trusted sources in the Greek government have denied any agreement," he said.

The boat, the Amalthea, which has 12 crew and 15 activists on board, is Moldovan-registered and set sail from the port of Lavrio in Greece.  The compromise to allow it to head for Egypt was said to have been agreed between the Greek and Egyptian authorities.

"The goods can be transferred to the Gaza Strip through Ashdod port after being checked," a statement from the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, said.

"However, we will not allow the entry of arms, weapons or anything which will support fighting into Gaza.  We recommend that the organisers either let the ship be escorted by navy vessels to Ashdod port or that is sails directly to the port of El-Arish."

The Israeli authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of the international condemnation which followed the clash between its navy and an aid ship chartered by a Turkish group in which nine activists were killed six weeks ago.

The Libyan charity plays a key political role in promoting the younger Mr Gaddafi's attempts to modernise Libya without losing his father's reputation for Arab nationalism.

It was prominent in the arrangements surrounding the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, from prison in Scotland and his return to Libya a year ago.

Mr Sawani said he did not want to "provoke" Israel.  However, the El-Arish port authorities said on Sunday night they had received no request from the ship to dock there.