Cyprus won’t allow Gaza-bound aid ship

The vessel, Mariam, would set sail from Lebanon for Cyprus on Sunday.

Nicosia: Cyprus will not allow a ship carrying women activists and aid for the blockaded Palestinian territory of Gaza to sail from its ports, the island`s police said on Friday.

Women activists said they planned to take aid to Gaza next week and their vessel, the Mariam, would set sail from Lebanon for Cyprus on Sunday.

Israel has said it will not allow ships to reach Gaza, controlled by the militant Palestinian group Hamas since 2007. Nine pro-Palestinian Turks were killed on May 31 when Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla of aid vessels heading for Gaza.

"Our position is clear. The arrival and departure of vessels to or from Gaza via Cyprus ports is prohibited and we will implement that decision," Cypriot police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said.

In New York, Israel`s UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev sent a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and her Russian counterpart Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, president of the Security Council this month, complaining about the aid ship and the reported approval of its departure by Lebanon.

Shalev said the organisers were "individuals with suspected ties to the Hezbollah terrorist organisation" who intended to break through the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel fought a 34-day war against Lebanese Hezbollah militants in the summer of 2006.

"In addition, there exists other information that an additional ship, the Naji al-Ali, will depart from a Lebanese port with the intention of violating the aforementioned naval blockade," she said in the letter.

"Such confrontational actions by the organisers of these vessels, as well as those that offer their consent, is deeply troubling and requires the attention of the international community," Shalev added.

Cyprus was used as a launch pad for activists to reach Gaza by sea from 2008 until mid-2009. Authorities introduced a ban last year, citing the island`s national interests.

Yasser Qashlaq, an organiser of the Mariam expedition, was undeterred, saying the vessel would still leave Lebanon`s northern port of Tripoli on Sunday evening.

Qashlaq said Cyprus had no right to stop ships sailing to Gaza and would need to explain any ban in writing.

He said on Thursday that Lebanese authorities had given permission for the Mariam to sail to Cyprus. Lebanon does not authorize ships to sail directly to Gaza because it is in a formal state of war with Israel, which controls Gaza waters.

Israel eased its Gaza blockade after an angry international backlash to its lethal seizure of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in May. It has said it has the right to use "all necessary means" to bar ships from reaching Gaza.

Bureau Report