ORIGINAL SOURCE (AFP) – 6 hours ago
BEIRUT — One of two aid boats planning to sail to Gaza from Lebanon has received the green light to depart for Cyprus on the first leg of a trip that aims to break Israel’s blockade, organisers said on Monday.
“The (Lebanese) transport minister has tentatively agreed to allow us to sail to Cyprus on condition our boat meets standard sailing criteria,” Thaer Ghandour of local non-governmental organisation Journalists Without Limits said.
“We are used to Israeli threats,” Ghandour told AFP. “We will continue to pursue our goal and reaffirm our commitment to humanitarianism.”
While the vessel would also need Cypriot authorisation to depart for Gaza from its shores, organisers have said they may change course before reaching the island and head straight towards the Palestinian territory.
In Cyprus, there was no official comment on Monday on the planned trip.
The ship, originally named “Julia” but now dubbed “Naji al-Ali” after a well-known Palestinian cartoonist, is currently in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli for inspection.
In defiance of Israeli warnings to Lebanon, organisers are planning to transport aid along with dozens of Lebanese and foreign journalists to the Hamas-controlled territory.
A second ship, the “Mariam”, also plans to carry aid to Gaza in another attempt to break the four-year siege of Gaza with some 50 women-only activists on board, including 30 Lebanese.
The “Mariam” has not yet been given permission to sail.
The women have openly denied any ties to Israel’s enemy Hezbollah, and the Lebanese militant group itself said on Friday that it was not backing the trip because it did not want to give Israel a pretext to attack the activists.
Neither group has announced their date of departure, citing security fears.
Israel came under international censure over its May 31 seizure of a six-ship aid fleet bound for Gaza, in which nine Turkish activists were shot dead by Israeli naval commandos in clashes on the lead boat.
Cyprus refused last month to allow its ports or waters to be used to launch the mission.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Saturday warned the world body that the Jewish state was entitled to use “all necessary force” to stop the Lebanese activists.
A Lebanese freighter which tried to deliver aid to Gaza last year was intercepted by Israeli warships.