Gaza - Israel - Libya

Libyan Gaza-bound aid ship still out to sea

Reuters

Israeli warships monitored a Libyan cargo vessel carrying aid for the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, amid confusion as to where the ship would ultimately arrive. Sources from Israel, Egypt, Libya and the ship itself gave contrasting messages as to whether it will rechart a course for an Egyptian port or continue toward Gaza in defiance of Israel's naval blockade of the territory.

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The standoff came just six weeks after Israeli commandos launched an operation to prevent a flotilla of aid ships from passing through its blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory, leaving nine people dead.

"Eight Israeli warships are surrounding the Libyan aid ship for Gaza and preventing the continuation of its journey," Yussef Sawan, the executive director of the Kadhafi Foundation which chartered the vessel, said early Wednesday.

Sawan said earlier that the Israeli warships were "threatening" the Amalthea, which he said was still headed for Gaza.

He added communications with the ship were being jammed and that the ship had engine trouble.

"Because of a malfunction, the cargo ship was moving slowly but now it has stopped. The Israeli navy is preventing us from moving," said Sawan.

By Wednesday morning, Israeli naval ships remained close to the vessel, which appeared to have stalled with apparent engine trouble.

"We are continuing to follow the ship," a military spokeswoman said.

Another spokesperson said earlier the navy had "begun preparations for stopping the ship, should it attempt to violate the naval blockade" of Gaza.

A statement by an Egyptian security official said the ship was expected to arrive at an Egyptian border port.

"The Libyan aid ship will arrive (Wednesday) morning at the port of El-Arish...It has received authorisation from Egyptian authorities to unload its cargo," an Egyptian security official said.

Israeli reports also state that after making contact with the ship, its captain announced he would sail to El-Arish.

However, Israeli warships continued to closely monitor the ship.

The 92-metre-long freighter set out from Greece on Saturday and was expected to arrive off Gaza's territorial waters on Wednesday, the Kadhafi Foundation said.

The charity is run by Seif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.

The Amalthea's shipping company said the vessel had a crew of 12 from various countries as well as six passengers from Libya, one from Nigeria, one from Morocco and one from Algeria.

The latest developments came a day after Israel's military published the results of an internal inquiry into the May 31 raid, which found that while mistakes had been made, the troops' use of live fire was "justified".

International pressure over the May 31 debacle forced Israel to significantly change its policy on Gaza, and now it prevents only the import of arms and goods it says could be used to build weapons or fortifications.

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