MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem
ISRAEL WILL not allow an aid ship sent by a Libyan group to reach Gaza, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday, just over a month after Israeli commandos killed nine activists in a raid at sea.
“I say very clearly, no ship will arrive in Gaza. We will not permit our sovereignty to be harmed,” Mr Lieberman said on army radio.
The Moldovan-flagged Amalthea , renamed Hope , left Greece on Saturday bound for Gaza on a trip organised by a charity chaired by Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy’s son Saif al-Islam Gadafy.
The group said the ship was carrying some 2,000 tonnes of food and medicine and complied with international rules.
Confusion surrounded the final destination of the Hope yesterday.
“Our mission is humanitarian and this is not a military operation or an act of terror,” Mr Gadafy told al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s Knesset, said the ship was aiming to break the blockade and head for the tiny fishing port on the beach at Gaza City. “The land and sea siege on Gaza can’t continue,” said Mr Tibi. He said the ship was carrying “food, particularly baby food, cereal, various kinds of juice, various medicines, especially for kidney patients, a generator and other aid that doesn’t include prohibited items.”
Mr Tibi said the activists on board were not intending to mount any violent resistance if they were intercepted by the Israeli navy but said the ship should be allowed to continue on to Gaza after an inspection.
Jamal al-Khudari, chairman of the Popular Committee Against the Siege, said in Gaza that they were expecting the ship there some time on Wednesday. “The ship’s crew will not surrender to the Zionists’ threats not to reach the Strip and dock in Ashdod,” he said.
In Jerusalem, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the sea blockade would remain in place – a policy that he had explained to American and UN officials during a trip to the US last week. “I found broad support for our decision to lift the civilian blockade on Gaza while strictly maintaining the security blockade, and the understanding that we are doing what must be done in order to prevent the entry into Gaza of weapons, missiles and rockets, out of concern for the security of Israel’s citizens,” Mr Netanayahu told cabinet ministers.
Meanwhile, a former top Palestinian peace negotiator has warned that Mr Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze new Israeli construction in East Jerusalem had turned the city into “a ticking time bomb”.
Ahmed Qurei, the former Palestinian prime minister, told a Hebrew University of Jerusalem conference that Mr Netanyahu’s policies were endangering the chance of restarting peace talks.