Gaza-bound ship alters course after Israeli warning

Thu, Jul 15, 2010, 01:00

A SHIP sponsored by a Libyan charity that announced it would breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza with 2,000 tons of supplies reached an Egyptian port yesterday after altering its course. This followed a warning from Israel’s navy not to head to the blockaded Gaza Strip.

An Egyptian official said the Moldovan-flagged Amaltheaarrived in El Arish, on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast about 45km (27 miles) south of the border with Gaza, in mid-evening and would begin unloading cargo.

“Medical supplies and passengers will enter Gaza through the Rafah border , while food will enter through the Awja border,” said Capt Gamal Abdel Maqsoud, who is in charge of the port.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, an Arab member of the Knesset parliament warned of “a threat to democracy” after she was stripped of some of her parliamentary privileges as punishment for participating in the last blockade-busting flotilla in May.

Legislator Hanin Zoabi was on board the Mavi Marmaraon May 31st when it was stormed by Israeli commandos and nine Turkish activists were killed. She says she was below deck during the raid and did not witness the killings.

The Israeli navy said it was monitoring the Moldovan-flagged ship that had been re-dubbed Al-Amal( The Hope) as it headed south yesterday after a night of slow progress due to engine trouble.

“You are in charge of the people on the ship, and any attempt to enter the area will be your fault only,” an Israeli naval officer warned the captain in a message broadcast on Israel Radio.

A reporter from Al-Jazeera on board the vessel said the Israeli ships were blocking its passage east to Gaza. He said the activists on board from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Association headed by Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, were determined to break the blockade.

A website recording the ship’s position ceased to function as it came within about five miles of El-Arish yesterday.

In Gaza City, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh led Palestinian demonstrators preparing to welcome The Hopeto the tiny fishing port in Gaza City. He urged the ship to stay on course.

“Don’t fall for any tricks and don’t dock in any other port other than the one in Gaza. You are our sailing hope at sea,” said Mr Haniyeh at a ceremony in Jabalya, north of Gaza City, where he named a street after the Turkish flotilla.

Israel has eased the land blockade on Gaza, but Mr Haniyeh demanded “a complete end to the siege”. Dan Meridor, the deputy Israeli prime minister, said that all goods except weapons or other military material could be transported by land from Egypt or the Israeli port of Ashdod.

“What we want is to set the arrangement for inspections, so we can always check and not allow them to bust their way in,” Mr Meridor said in a radio interview.

Ms Zoabi of the National Democratic Assembly Party said she was not surprised that the “vengeful majority” in Israel’s parliament had voted to revoke her diplomatic passport and legal privileges.

“It is no wonder that a state which denies a million Arab citizens their basic rights is also revoking the rights of an MP who faithfully represents her voters,” said Ms Zoabi, one of 10 Knesset members representing Arab parties. There are also four Druze MPs who represent Zionist parties.

“This is a dangerous precedent for the Arab public, and a hostile message,” she said.

Israel Radio aired yesterday what it said was the navy’s warning to the captain that he would be held responsible for any showdown at sea.

On June 5th , the navy commandeered the Irish-owned aid ship Rachel Corrieafter it refused orders to turn back or dock in Ashdod for its cargo to be vetted for overland transfer to Gaza.

An Israeli inquiry by a military panel into the navys killing of the Turkish activists concluded on Monday that there had been faults in planning the May 31st interception but that commandos had resorted to live gunfire in self-defence.