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Friday July 23, 2010 9:40 AM (EST+7)
Israel urges international community to block Lebanese ships bound for Gaza

Read more: gaza blockade, Israeli Naval blockade, Gaza, Lebanese flotilla, St. Mariam, siege, Egypt, Gabriela Shalev

RAMALLAH, July 23 (JMCC) - Israel has launched an international diplomatic campaign to keep two Lebanese ships, intending to sail to Gaza from leaving Tripoli’s shores. It warned that the vessels shall be stopped.

Israel has called upon the Lebanese government to dry dock the ships. On Thursday the Foreign Ministry instructed Israeli ambassadors in the United States, European Union, Egypt and the UN to pressure Syria and Lebanon to stop the flotillas.

These are one of a long series of flotillas that have in recent weeks sought to challenge Israel’s Navy blockade of the Gaza Strip. But Israel has deemed this latest attempt to be particularly grave as it comes from a hostile state.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev accused organizers of the aid ships of seeking to incite a confrontation and raise tensions in our region. The ships must be stopped, said Shalev ‘to prevent any escalation’.

In letters to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, Shalev said, Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the ... naval blockade..

The ships, the Maryam and Naji Alali, are formally organized by Yasser Kashlak, the head of the Free Gaza Movement.

One of the boats, the St. Maryam, or Virgin Mary, attracted particular attention; Organised by Samar Al-Hajj, the vessel is an all female flotilla. The ladies, who have all adopted the name Mary to show a united vision, are from all backgrounds and religions.
“There are doctors, lawyers, journalists, Christians and Muslims – we have people from all kinds of sectors and religions,” said Mona, one of the organizers.

Israel says that given that the boats are from a ‘hostile state’ it cannot guarantee that there shall not be weapons on board. The ladies in the St. Mary deny this passionately. The organizers of the St. Mariam are keen to frame the trip as purely humanitarian. “We have a goal, our goal is to arrive to Gaza. It is the responsibility of the government to deal with the politics. We are not political,” said Samar.  

The flotilla’s have for weeks, held a spot in the international media, helped by the organizer’s secrecy about the ships’ departure dates. After weeks, rumour spread that the boats would never leave Lebanese waters.

The Lebanese government would not issue permits to sail to Israeli waters, a country it does not recognize. Instead the government has allowed the ships to leave Lebanese waters to sail to Cyprus.

In an interview with JMCC, Yasser Kashlak confirmed that the boats would be leaving and that departure was planned for ‘the middle of next week’. Nearby countries heeding Israel’s diplomatic warning not to allow the ships to dock would not be a problem he said, the boats shall “go directly to Gaza”.

U.N. officials have urged countries not to attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade and urged all parties to show restraint.

U.N under-secretary-general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council on Wednesday that such convoys are not helpful to resolving the basic economic problems of Gaza and needlessly carry the potential for escalation.

Shalev noted that aid could be delivered to Gaza by land and said that those sending ships to the territory were doing so not to bring aid to the Palestinians but to incite a confrontation and raise tension in our region.

Last week, Egypt cooperated with Israel in diverting a Libyan aid ship headed to Gaza to the Egyptian port of El-Arish, and so Israeli officials are hopeful it will do the same this time.







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