Israel orders Gaza-bound aid ship to Egypt
An Israeli military vessel confronted a Libyan aid ship yesterday trying to breach Israel's three-year-old Gaza blockade and ordered it to divert to an Egyptian port, the Israeli military and organisers said.
The Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation said the Moldovan-flagged Amalthea, which left Greece on Saturday carrying 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies, refused to alter its course for el-Arish in Egypt and insisted it will steam on for Gaza.
The foundation also said in a statement posted on its website that the Israeli naval vessel is shadowing the Libyan-commissioned aid ship.
The Israeli military confirmed that it has made contact with the Amalthea and said "the navy has begun preparing to stop the ship." It did not elaborate.
The latest challenge to Israel's blockade on the seaside strip comes more than a month after Israeli naval commandos boarded a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American on one of the vessels.
That raid focused international attention on the Israeli embargo on Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas, and forced Israel to ease the movement of goods through land crossings.
However, Israel's naval blockade on the territory, meant to keep weapons from reaching Hamas militants, remains in place. Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas overran the Palestinian territory in June 2007.
Israeli's policy has been to offer aid ships sailing for Gaza the option of docking at an Israeli port, after which Israel would screen the goods aboard and transfer them into Gaza by land.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev reiterated that offer Tuesday, inviting the activists aboard the Amalthea to sail to the Israeli port of Ashdod and unload there.
"We will guarantee delivery of all civilian cargo to the people of Gaza," Regev said. "There are no limitations whatsoever on food reaching the people of Gaza. The crossings are open."
Also Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara will keep pushing for an international inquiry into the Israeli raid on Gaza-bound ships that left nine activists dead. The comments come a day after an Israeli report concluded that flawed intelligence-gathering and planning led to the botched operation.
Davutoglu welcomed the fact that the report acknowledged that "mistakes" were made, but said the Israeli commandos had committed "a crime" and said Turkey still wants an international probe.
Ties between Turkey and Israel once close allies reached a new low following the May 31 raid that killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American.
Israel says its commandos were defending themselves after being attacked by pro-Palestinian activists, and has resisted calls for a UN-led inquiry into the raid.
Activists on board the ship have said they acted in self-defense after Israeli troops opened fire.