Jul 132010
Authors: By Sheera Frenkel, McClatchy Newspapers

JERUSALEM — Israel’s military on Tuesday prepared to stop a Libyan aid ship that’s en route to try to breach Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said the navy had contacted the ship in the early morning hours, asking it to identify itself and establish its course. If the ship attempts to sail toward Gaza, the spokeswoman said, Israel will take any means necessary to stop it.

The ship’s captain, Mashallah Zwei, spoke to an Agence France-Presse reporter by satellite phone and said the Israelis had given the ship until midnight, local time, to change course.

Several Egyptian and Palestinian news reports suggest that the ship will dock voluntarily at the northern Egyptian port of al- Arish, 20 miles short of Gaza. From there, trucks will remove the ship’s cargo, which will be taken to Gaza via the Rafah crossing.

The Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation said the Amalthea was carrying 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies, though it didn’t give specifics.

A statement on the group’s website read: “Pressures are escalating at various levels on the owner of the vessel and its captain to force the ship to change its course and not to go to Gaza port.” It added that the foundation “has received a letter from the company which owns the vessel confirming sustained pressures on them up to now. The ship’s owner confirmed he had rejected the pressure; however, he stressed that he did not intend to enter into any confrontation.”

The latest attempt to break Israel’s blockade on Gaza came a day after the Israeli military released its report on the flotilla of six Turkish ships that sailed toward Gaza on May 31. Israeli naval ships intercepted that flotilla, killing nine people and wounding dozens more on board the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara.

Israel cleared itself of any negligence or wrongdoing in the raid, though Turkey and a number of other countries still might demand an independent investigation.

An international outcry after the raid focused on why Israel had continued to enforce a stringent blockade on Gaza more than three years after Hamas seized control of the coastal strip.

According to Gisha, an Israeli advocacy organization, barely 100 trucks were making their way into Gaza daily at the time of the flotilla, as opposed to the 500 a day that entered in 2006.

Israel has since loosened its restrictions on Gaza, allowing in a greater variety of goods in greater quantity, said Danny Ayalon, the Israeli deputy foreign minister. It wasn’t clear whether the goods on board the Libyan ship were among those currently approved by Israel to enter Gaza via the land crossings.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that in either case, Israel would “guarantee delivery of all civilian cargo to the people of Gaza” that was on board the ship.

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