Israeli warships block Libyan aid boat near Gaza
AFP - Tuesday, December 2
GAZA CITY, (AFP) - - Israeli warships on Monday prevented a Libyan cargo vessel from reaching the Gaza Strip, the impoverished Palestinian territory under a crippling Israeli blockade.
The ship, laden with 3,000 tonnes of goods, was stopped several kilometres (miles) off Gaza's shores and ordered to return to the Egyptian port of El-Arish, said Palestinian MP Jamal Khodary, who heads an international campaign against the Israeli sanctions.
"Navy ships approached the Libyan boat and ordered it on the radio to turn back, and so it did," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
"Anyone wishing to transfer humanitarian aid into Gaza is welcome to do it in coordination with Israel and through the regular crossings. They can also contact Egypt."
Israel sealed off its crossings with Gaza -- the impoverished territory's main gateway for food and humanitarian aid -- as well as its maritime borders after the Islamist movement Hamas violently seized power there in June 2007.
The sanctions were again tightened in recent weeks amid renewed tensions and tit-for-tat exchanges of fire that threatened to destroy an Egyptian-brokered June 19 ceasefire.
Egypt's only border crossing with Gaza, at Rafah, has been generally closed since June 2006 but has opened on a few occasions for humanitarian purposes.
The Libyan boat is the first such effort to break the blockade by an Arab state, although European and other pro-Palestinian activists have since August made three trips from Cyprus without being intercepted by the Israeli navy.
The Libyan consignment consists of 1,200 tonnes of rice, 750 tonnes of milk, 500 tonnes of oil, 500 tonnes of flour and 100 tonnes of medicine, said the Libyan Fund for Aid and Development in Africa, which chartered the vessel.
Libya, the only Arab state on the 15-member UN Security Council, has no diplomatic relations with Israel and has frequently criticised the Jewish state over the situation in Gaza.
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A Palestinian woman removes freshly-baked bread from an oven in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. Israeli navy ships on Monday prevented a Libyan cargo ship from reaching the blockaded Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said
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