Aid ship on course for Gaza, say backers

An aid ship on its way from Greece is sailing for Gaza and will not be diverted to Egypt, its Libyan organisers insisted.

Workers load aid supplies on to the cargo ship Amalthea at the Lavrio port, about 60 kilometres southeast of Athens, Greece.
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TEL AVIV // An aid ship on its way from Greece is sailing for Gaza and will not be diverted to Egypt, its Libyan organisers insisted yesterday. Youssef Sawani, executive director of the Qadafi Foundation, said: "It's definitely heading for Gaza." He dismissed reports that the vessel was being diverted to the Egyptian port of Al Arish as a "disinformation campaign".

Mr Sawani was backed by Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament who is in contact with the Tripoli-based foundation. He said: "The foundation confirmed to me that the boat will try to reach Gaza's port to unload the cargo." The Moldovan-flagged Amalthea, whose name was changed to Hope for the operation, sailed on Saturday from the Greek port of Lavrio, south-east of Athens, with 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian supplies. Organisers have said it will take up to 80 hours to reach Gaza.

The freighter has a crew of of 12 from Haiti, India and Syria, with a Cuban-born captain. Nine supporters and activists are also on board: a Nigerian, an Algerian, a Moroccan and six Libyans. The voyage comes six weeks after Israeli commandos killed nine activists in a raid on a Turkish-flagged aid vessel off the coast of Gaza. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's hardline foreign minister, promised yesterday that the new aid ship would not be permitted to reach Gaza either. He told a radio interviewer: "I say very clearly. No ship will arrive in Gaza. I hope there will be no confrontation, we are not looking for one, but we will not permit our sovereignty to be harmed."

Mr Lieberman suggested that the ship might be diverted by the Israeli navy to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod. He added: "I hope very much that common sense will prevail and the ship will go to Al Arish or that it will obey the Israeli Defence Forces and eventually go to Ashdod." Earlier the ship's Greek agent said the boat's documents indicated that it was heading for Egypt. Grigoris Delavekouras, a spokesman for the Greek foreign ministry, said he had "received assurances from the Libyan ambassador that the boat would head for Al Arish".

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, who on Saturday described the ship as an "unnecessary provocation," said yesterday that he had discussed the option of the boat docking in Al Arish with Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief. He also said that the vessel does not need to breach the blockade to transfer aid to Gaza. "Goods can be transferred to the Gaza Strip through the Ashdod port after going through a check. We will not allow arms, weapons or materials that can be used for military purposes to enter Gaza," he said.

Israel has launched an intensive diplomatic campaign with Egypt, Greece and Moldova to prevent the boat from reaching Gaza. Israel has blockaded the enclave's waters, airspace and land crossings since Hamas took countrol in June 2007. The country is trying to shift international attention away from its siege of Gaza after suffering a torrent of condemnation following the deadly commando raid on May 31. Israel has insisted that its marines had acted in self-defence after they were attacked by passengers with knives and sticks.

Mr Sawani of the Qadafi Foundation insisted that the ship's goal was not to spur violence. He said: "We hope that the international community and all parties concerned will make every effort to support us. This is not an attempt to provoke aggression. This is not a propaganda attempt. This is purely humanitarian." Seif al Islam Qadafi, second son and heir apparent of the Libyan leader Muammar Qadafi, is president of the foundation.