Tue, May 17, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Israel fires warning shots at aid ship to Gaza: organizer

AFP, KUALA LUMPUR

Israeli naval forces fired warning shots yesterday at a ship carrying aid to Gaza as it approached the shore, forcing it to withdraw, the vessel’s Malaysian organizer said.

“The MV Finch, carrying sewage pipes to Gaza, had warning shots fired at it by Israeli forces in the Palestinian security zone this morning at 6:54[am] Jordan time,” said Shamsul Azhar from the Perdana Global Peace Foundation.

“The vessel was in the Palestinian security zone, about 400m from the Gaza shoreline, when they were intercepted by Israeli naval forces,” he said, adding it was anchored 30 nautical miles (55.56km) away in Egyptian territory.

The foundation is led by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, an 85-year-old firebrand who was a strident critic of the West and Israel over the Palestinian issue during his two decades in power.

The organization was also involved in the first “Freedom Flotilla,” an attempt last year to break the Israeli embargo on Gaza that ended in disaster when Israeli commandos raided the aid ships, killing nine Turks on board one of them.

Perdana Foundation officials said the MV Finch left the Port of Piraeus in Greece on Wednesday last week for Gaza, carrying plastic pipes to help restore the “devastated” sewage system in Gaza.

Alang Bendahara, a Malaysian journalist on board, said that in a dramatic encounter, Israeli ships stopped the vessel with a volley of gunfire as it approached the shore.

“The Israeli naval vessel fired a warning shot at us upon approaching and asked us to leave the waters, but the ship’s captain refused and the Israelis fired again, circling the MV Finch before firing twice more,” he said.

“At that point they threatened the ship’s captain that they would board the vessel and we were forced to turn back, it was lucky that no one was injured,” he added.

Alang said the ship’s propellers then got stuck in fishing nets, but that it managed to move away shortly after.

“Two Egyptian naval vessels were monitoring us and they escorted us once we were in Egyptian waters,” he said. “They have now boarded our vessel and are inspecting our cargo to make sure there is nothing illegal onboard. They will be escorting us to the port of al-Arish because they say they will detain the ship.”

The journalist said there were 12 people on board the vessel — seven Malaysians, two Irish, two Indians and a Canadian — including anti-war activists and journalists.

Foundation officials said the MV Finch is not part of an international aid flotilla that plans to set sail for the Gaza Strip next month.

Last month, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avidgor Lieberman condemned the new convoy, dubbed “Freedom Flotilla II,” as aimed solely at harming his country.

Since last year’s flotilla incident, Israel has loosened some of the -restrictions on imports into Gaza and exports from the coastal enclave, but aid vessels are routinely diverted to Ashdod in Israel or Egyptian ports.

The Perdana Foundation sent volunteers on the first aid flotilla operation and also sponsored part of the cost of the mission.

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