Aid Boat allowed to sail to Cyprus, not directly to Strip
Another blockade-busting ship with activists and aid on board could be bound for Gaza within a few days after Lebanese authorities granted permission Monday for it to sail first to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said he had allowed the ship to sail but added that the state of war between Lebanon and Israel prevented the boat from heading directly to Gaza.
“Lebanon and Israel are in a state of war and no ship has ever sailed from Lebanon to Israel,” Aridi told Reuters.
“Now what the Cypriots will decide, I don’t know. Cyprus may not allow them to sail to Gaza,” Aridi said.
A Lebanese freighter which tried to deliver aid to Gaza late last year was intercepted and damaged by Israeli warships.
While the vessel would also need Cypriot authorization to depart for Gaza from its shores, organizers have said that they may simply change course before reaching the island and head straight toward the Palestinian territory.
There was no official comment from Cyprus on Monday.
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, organizers are planning to transport aid along with dozens of Lebanese and foreign journalists to the Hamas-controlled territory.
Last week Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that the Lebanese government would be held responsible for any “violent and dangerous confrontation,” should the ship seek to breach Gaza’s blockade.
Israeli navy commandos raided an international flotilla bound for Gaza on May 31, killing nine pro-Palestinian activists. An international outcry over the operation pressured Israel to ease its three-year-old blockade of the Palestinian territory.
Israel imposed the blockade of Gaza after Hamas militants overran the territory three years ago. But the blockade did not achieve Israel’s aims of keeping weapons out of the territory, pressuring Gazans to turn on their Hamas rulers or winning the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas-linked militants for four years.
Israel has made clear that even though it has eased its land blockade of Gaza, it maintains a naval blockade and will not allow any ships to dock there for fear they could bring weapons to Hamas.
Nearly a week after the deadly commando raid, Israeli forces seized a Gaza-bound aid vessel without meeting resistance, preventing it from busting the blockade. The Irish ship was carrying hundreds of tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.
Israel’s United Nations ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, warned Friday that the attempt by the organizers to sail from Lebanon and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza could escalate tensions and affect peace and security in the region.
A second ship, part of the “Mariam” humanitarian mission, 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 ship has not yet been given permission to sail.
The women have openly denied any ties to Israel’s enemy Hizbullah, and the party 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.
Whereas the Lebanese boats look certain to set sail soon, the departure of two Iranian aid ships for Gaza was delayed Monday.
ISNA news agency quoted Mohammad Javad Jafarian, head of the youth wing of Iranian Red Crescent, as saying that the sailing had been delayed and “no definite” date had been set for the departure of the ships to Gaza.
The Iranian Red Crescent had planned to send two aid ships earlier this month and last week even said that the boats were ready and awaiting the approval of the foreign ministry.The delay occurred as “the cargo had to be changed in accordance with the World Red Cross specifications and there has been some international lack of coordination,” Jafarian said without elaborating.
The Iranian Red Crescent has previously said it would send a total of three aid ships to Gaza, two of them carrying medicines and foodstuffs and Iranian relief workers. The fate of the third one is still unknown.