A Libyan-chartered boat, loaded with 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies destined for Gaza, was immobile for several hours earlier Tuesday in the waters of the Mediterranean off Port Said, Egypt. It began to move again around 5 pm.
It could be headed to the Egyptian port of El-Arish, as it has apparently official listed as its destination, or to Israel’s Ashdod Port — or even to Gaza.
People associated either with the ship or with the Libyan aid group that chartered it have sounded accommodating and non-confrontational for days. Yet, as some Palestinians [in Gaza and in Jerusalem] — and others — encourage the ship to head to Gaza in defiance of Israel’s formal naval blockade, Israeli military officials have raised their tone as well.
UPDATE: The IDF spokesperson has just sent a tweet assuring that “Contrary to media reports, no ultimatum was issued to crew of Libyan boat by Israeli Navy … Rather, the Navy had emphasized that the boat could not be allowed to enter Gaza Port” A few hours earlier, the IDF sent these two tweets: “Israeli Navy has begun preparations to stop Libyan boat in case boat persists in trying to enter maritime closure area”. and “The Israeli Navy has initiated communication with the Libyan ship”. It is still not clear, but the boat appears to be turning slightly in the direction of El-Arish.
[A message which just arrived via SMS at about 2:30 pm Jerusalem time quoted foreign press reports as saying that the Israeli Navy has made contact with the Amalthea, and asked it to move towards El-Arish. This was also reported on Israel [Army?] Radio… At about 3:30 pm Jerusalem time, that it has begun the process of identification and communication with the ship.]
Whatever happens now will happen after midnight — most likely, as usual, around 03:30 or 04:00 or so in the morning, just before first light.
Go to this Live Ships map on the AIS Vessel Tracking and Position site, here.
On the upper left side of the page, under Ships Map, click on the third box [“Go to Vessel”], and choose Amalthea from the drop-down menu.
Then, use the zoom-in or zoom-out button to see what you want.
Military vessels are not identified on this map…]
The Egyptian port of El-Arish, is the Libyan ship’s declared destination.
Either El-Arish, or Ashdod Port in Israel, are apparently both all right for the Israeli Navy.
The Jerusalem Post has just reported that “One of the owners of the … Almathea headed towards Gaza said on Tuesday that if Israel will only allow the ship to dock in Ashdod instead of reaching Gaza, the crew will instead unload the humanitarian goods in the Egyptian port of El-Arish … ‘If this is the only option put forward by the Israeli authorities, we will choose to sail to the port of El-Arish and transfer the assistance by ground to Gaza’, Greek businessman Aleksei Angeolopoulos said in an interview with the Arabic newspaper Ashraq al-Awsat. Angeolopoulos continued, ‘I say to the Israeli authorities that the ship is carrying humanitarian aid and food and there are no weapons or prohibited materials, as claimed by Israel … If Israel wants, the Israeli navy is invited to board the ship and to search it so that they can see with their own eyes that it is only carrying food and allow it to continue to the port of Gaza’.” This is published here.
According to Israel’s Professor Ruth Lapidot, specialist in international law, only material or personnel that would aid Hamas in its “war effort” against Israel should be banned by the formal Israeli naval blockade. But, if Israel has a “suspicion”, it can take a look — and/or try to persuade the ship not to go to the blockaded area [and if the ship is not persuaded, Israel can attack, she says]. See our report on Professor Lapidot’s 16 June remarks at the JCPA here.
Meanwhile, in a just-published interview, Greta Berlin, Co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement [which sent 8 expeditions by sea from Cyprus towards Gaza, and which participated in the Freedom Flotilla expedition that was stopped at sea on 31 May] told Elias Harb that “We do not have any connection to the Libyan boat since we do not deal with governments who want to send boats. Our organization is made up of people from civil society (although we certainly take members of Parliament) who work civilian to civilian …we are going again sometime in the fall”. [n.b.- The Libyan aid organization that chartered the boat says it is not an official or government organization, even though it is headed by Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s son].
Berlin said in the interview that there are now no passengers missing from the Freedom Flotilla: “everyone is accounted for. There are no passengers held in Ashdod. There are, however, five very seriously injured passengers still in hospital, two are not expected to live…making the count really 11 murdered”. This interview is published here.
Meanwhile, the entire Israeli Knesset has been debating today whether or not to strip Knesset member from Nazareth, Haneen Zoabi, of her parliamentary rights for having participated in the Freedom Flotilla. Zoabi was on board the large Turkish passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara, when it was boarded by Israeli commandos in the early morning hours of 31 May. The Jerusalem Post is reporting that, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television, Zoabi said “[The Knesset] has no idea what democracy is here. I represent my views, my party’s views, and the views of all the Arab members of the Knesset … you were supposed to defend my right to express my opinions’, and ‘protect me from racism which targeted me for my views. I stand not only for my peoples’ views, but for a global consensus’.” She also said in the interview that “the Libyan aid ship, which is currently bound for Gaza, proved that ‘there is a world consensus that the blockade of Gaza is illegitimate’.” This is published here.
UPDATE: The decision to strip Zoabi of her parliamentary privileges was adopted by a vote of 34-16.