Libya aid boat aims to reach Gaza on Wednesday

The freighter Amalthea set sail from the Greek port of Lavrio
© AFP/File Louisa Gouliamaki
The freighter Amalthea set sail from the Greek port of Lavrio
© AFP/File Louisa Gouliamaki

TRIPOLI (AFP) – A Libyan aid ship headed for Gaza in defiance of an Israeli blockade aims to reach the Palestinian territory on Wednesday, the Kadhafi Foundation organising the mission said on Monday.

“The foundation’s team on the vessel has said morale on board is high and that they are preparing to enter Gaza on Wednesday,” the charity run by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, said on its website.

It said that by midday on Monday the boat was in international waters some 100 kilometres (60 miles) off the Greek island of Crete.

Amid a flurry of Israeli diplomatic efforts to divert it to Egypt, the 92-metre (302-foot) freighter Amalthea set sail from the Greek port of Lavrio on Saturday.

Israel insists on enforcing its four-year Gaza blockade to keep weapons out of the territory run by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

“We are not transporting arms of suspect goods. We only have food, medicine and young pacifists on the boat,” Mashallah Zwei, a Kadhafi Foundation representative on board, told AFP by satellite phone.

“The Israelis can inspect the ship and if they have an ounce of humanity they will let us unload in Gaza,” said Zwei, urging the international community to pressure the Jewish state to allow the aid through.

Zwei has insisted the foundation was not seeking “a confrontation or a provocation,” when asked about the risks of a repeat of an Israeli naval raid on an aid flotilla that killed nine Turks.

But Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has said the aid could be delivered through Ashdod port in southern Israel after being inspected, or through Egypt.

“We recommend that the organisers either let the ship be escorted by navy vessels to Ashdod port or that is sails directly to the port of El-Arish” in Egypt near the border with Gaza, he said.

Amalthea’s agent and the Greek foreign ministry had on Saturday assured Israel that the Moldova-flagged vessel was heading for El-Arish, but the organisers have denied a change of plans.

The ship is loaded with 2,000 tonnes of foodstuff and medications and a crew comprising six Libyans, a Moroccan, a Nigerian and an Algerian, according to the foundation.

An internal Israeli military probe found on Monday that professional mistakes were made at a “relatively senior” level during the planning and execution of Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on the Turkish aid boat.

Global pressure over the incident has since forced Israel to significantly change its policy on Gaza, and now it only prevents the import of arms and goods that it says could be used to build weapons or fortifications.

Libya’s official news agency JANA on Monday also announced that a convoy of 20 trucks would leave the country bound for Gaza next week loaded with food, medicine and school equipment.