JERUSALEM: Israel’s navy has given the Gaza-bound Libyan aid ship until midnight Tuesday to change course for Egypt, an activist on board told AFP, with the military saying it was preparing to stop the vessel.
“Israeli authorities have given us until midnight tonight (2100 GMT) to change course ... otherwise they are threatening to intercept the boat with their navy,” Mashallah Zwei told AFP by satellite phone.
Zwei, a member of the Kadhafi Foundation charity which organised the shipment, said the crew had informed the navy it would study the request before responding.
The military refused to confirm or deny that it had given the ship an ultimatum although a spokesperson said that preparations were under way to stop the vessel from reaching the Gaza Strip.
Six weeks ago, Israeli commandos had launched an operation to prevent a flotilla of aid ships from breaching its naval blockade on Gaza, killing nine activists and injuring many other people.
The latest standoff came a day after the Israeli military published the results of an internal inquiry into that raid, which found that while mistakes had been made, the troops’ use of live fire during the operation was “justified”.
The report also made a point of saying that no country in the world had ever managed “to stop a vessel at sea in a non-hostile manner.”
Meanwhile, Zwei said “We explained to the Israeli authorities that our original destination was Gaza and that we are not here for a provocation.
“We also specified that we are transporting only foodstuffs and medicines.”
The ship left a Greek port on Saturday and was expected to arrive off Gaza’s territorial waters on Wednesday, said the group behind the mission.
Over the last week, Israel has made a flurry of diplomatic efforts to try and convince the boat, named the Amalthea, to change course and deliver its cargo of 2,000 tonnes of foodstuffs and medicine to El-Arish.
In Cairo, an official confirmed the authorities had received a request for the Libyan ship to dock in El-Arish, near Egypt’s border with Gaza, but did not specify the origin of the request.
Global pressure over the May 31 tragedy has since forced Israel to significantly change its policy on Gaza, and now it only prevents the import of arms and goods it says could be used to build weapons or fortifications.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2010.
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