Fri, Jul 16, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Gaza aid ship docks in Egyptian port

FACEOFF In recent days the stage appeared set for a showdown on the high seas, as missile-carrying Israeli ships stopped the vessel from reaching blockaded Gaza

AP , EL-ARISH, EGYPT

A Libyan ship with aid for Gaza has docked in an Egyptian port after Israel’s navy stopped it from reaching the blockaded Palestinian territory.

The director of the port of el-Arish, Gamal Abdel Maqsoud, says the ship would unload its cargo yesterday and hand it over to the Red Crescent for delivery to Gaza by land.

Israeli missile ships stopped the aid vessel from reaching Gaza, which has been blockaded for three years. An al-Jazeera reporter on board the aid boat said Israeli ships were arrayed in a “wall” meant to prevent the Amalthea from continuing toward the Palestinian territory

The Gadhafi foundation, headed by the son of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, said the ship, the Amalthea, left Greece on Saturday carrying food and medical supplies.

PERMISSION TO DOCK

Maqsoud, said the Libyan boat radioed on Wednesday evening asking permission to dock in el-Arish.

Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, told reporters that Cairo had agreed to let the Amalthea through, and that as soon as the boat docked, its cargo would be unloaded and handed over to the Red Crescent.

In recent days, with the Amalthea’s organizers insisting it would go to Hamas-ruled Gaza and Israel saying it would not allow that to happen, the stage appeared set for a showdown on the high seas.

Framing the faceoff was Israel’s botched attempt to block a similar Gaza-bound aid ship in May, an incident that ended with the deaths of nine pro-Palestinian activists — eight Turks and a Turkish-American on one of them — in a violent confrontation on board.

Despite the Israeli insistence that it would not allow the ship through the blockade, Hamas officials in Gaza had been urging the Amalthea to press on. Speaking at a ceremony naming a street after those killed in the May 31 confrontation, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the territory’s Hamas government, called the Libyan ship “our moving hope in the Mediterranean Sea.”

“Beware not to fall into the trap and stop in a port other than Gaza,” he said as the street was named “The Martyrs of the Freedom Flotilla.”

Conflicting messages on Tuesday created confusion over whether the Amalthea intended to try to run the blockade or not.

A spokesman for the Libyan mission, Youssef Sawani, insisted the ship would try to reach the Palestinian territory, but said those aboard would not violently resist any efforts to stop them.

He later said in Tripoli that after mediation from the EU, the organizers agreed to enter el-Arish port and send the goods by yesterday to Gaza.

“Our aim is not provocation or political propaganda,” he told reporters in Tripoli.

The deaths of the nine activists in the May 31 raid focused international attention on Israel’s blockade of Gaza, imposed after the Islamic militant and anti-Israel Hamas violently overran the Palestinian territory in June 2007.

CRITICISM

The international criticism forced Israel to ease its land blockade of the territory but it has maintained the naval embargo, insisting it is vital to keep weapons out of Hamas’ hands.

Restrictions remain on materials like cement and steel that Israel says could be used for military purposes, and Gaza’s 1.5 million people, confined to the territory, have been plagued by other problems, including a chronic cash shortage.

George Saba, who manages a branch of the Cairo Amman Bank in the territory, said on Wednesday that because of cash shortages the bank could not pay this month’s salary to government officials.

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