Israel foils Libyan plans to sail aid ship to Gaza

Intense diplomatic efforts by Israel involving Greece, Egypt and Moldova have prevented a Libyan aid ship from trying to breach the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Jerusalem: Intense diplomatic efforts by Israel involving Greece, Egypt and Moldova have prevented a Libyan aid ship from trying to breach the blockaded Gaza Strip, the foreign ministry said Saturday.

The agent of the Amalthea cargo ship said to a news agency in Athens that the Moldova-flagged boat set sail from Greece, where it was anchored, and was heading for the Egyptian port of El-Arish.

Israel, which came under fire from the international community after its forces killed nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists in a raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31, said it was sure the ship would not reach Gaza.

"Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke several times in recent days with the foreign ministers of Greece and Moldova and reached understandings with them about dealing with the Libyan ship," a ministry statement said.

"The foreign ministry believes that due to these talks, the ship will not reach Gaza," the Israeli statement added.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak spoke with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and asked "if Egypt would agree to accept the boat at the port of El-Arish," Barak`s office said.

The Greek foreign ministry confirmed it was in contact with Israel over the boat but would not elaborate. It was not immediately clear if Egypt had acceded to Barak`s request.

But Israeli officials said Moldovan authorities had made contact with the captain of the ship who agreed to divert the cargo to El-Arish.

Later on Saturday, the ship`s agent said the vessel had set sail from Lavrio, 60 kilometres (37 miles) southeast of Athens.

"All the ship`s documents are in order, they indicate as its destination the Egyptian port of El-Arish," Petros Arvanitis said to a news agency.

He also confirmed talks were held between the various parties on the boat`s final destination.

A charity headed by Seif al-Islam Kadhafi, the son of Libyan leader Moamar Kadhafi who is widely seen as heir apparent, announced on Friday plans to send boat load of humanitarian aid from Greece to Gaza.

The 92-metre (302-foot) freighter has a 12-man crew and will carry up to nine passengers, a representative of Piraeus-based agents Alpha Shipping said on Friday.

Meanwhile Israeli media on Saturday reported that Israel had asked the United Nations to stop the Libyan ship.

Israel`s UN ambassador Gabriela Shalev sent a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon asking the international community intervene to prevent the ship approaching Gaza, Haaretz newspaper reported on its website.

"Israel calls upon the international community to exert its influence on the government of Libya to demonstrate responsibility and prevent the ship from departing to the Gaza Strip," Haaretz quoted from the letter.

Shalev also warned in the letter that "Israel reserves the right under international law to prevent this ship from violating the existing naval blockade on the Gaza Strip."

The Tripoli-based Kadhafi International Charity and Development Association said the cargo ship was "loaded with about 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid in the form of foodstuff and medications."

The ship will also carry "a number of supporters who are keen on expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people in the plight amidst the siege imposed on Gaza," the organisation added in a statement.

On May 31, Israeli commandos stormed a six-ship flotilla carrying aid to Gaza, killing nine Turks on board the Turkish passenger ferry Mavi Marmara.

Israel says its troops only used force to defend themselves after being ambushed.

The Jewish state imposed the blockade in June 2006 after its soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Gaza militants and tightened it a year later when Hamas seized power in the coastal strip.

Since its deadly raid on the flotilla, Israel has significantly eased the blockade, barring only arms and goods that could be used to create weapons or build fortifications, but it has maintained the naval blockade.

Bureau Report

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