Libyan-chartered ship docks in El-Arish

The New York Times is reporting from Cairo that the port director in El Arish says the Libyan-chartered Amalthea, docked at about 1 p.m today. and was expected to immediately begin unloading its cargo.

The NYTimes further reports, a propos continued speculation about some kind of “deal” or other: that “Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of Libyan leader. Muammar Qaddafi, said in an interview with Ash-Sharq al-Awsat “that the Israelis ‘agreed to let Libya spend $50 million’ through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees [UNRWA]. The money, he said, would be used ‘to support the Palestinians and for reconstruction, including allowing construction materials and prefabricated homes’ … A spokesman for the United Nations agency did not immediately comment”. This report is posted here.

This is all a bit mysterious, because Libya was always free to contribute as much as it liked to UNRWA, for the Palestinians, whenever it liked (though it probably did not do so, previously, up until now…)

Juan Cole has also posted on his blog, Informed Comment, an item reporting that “al-Quds al-Arabi reports in Arabic that the Qadhafi Foundation is maintaining that it extracted several concessions from Israel in return for diverting to the Egyptian port, including a pledge that travel abroad for treatment of ill Palestinians in Gaza would be expedited and reconstruction projects would be allowed to go forward (one in 8 Palestinians in Gaza had their homes destroyed in the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on the Strip.)”… This, published here, is also a bit mysterious…

Larry Derfner wrote today in his column for the Jerusalem Post that “Given the way Israel behaves now, it’s pretty sad to remember that it was envisioned as a country where the Jews ran their own national affairs – but nobody else’s. Now it’s not enough for Israel to have its own coast, its own territorial waters, its own airspace – no, we’ve got to control Gaza’s coast, Gaza’s territorial waters, Gaza’s airspace, too. The Gaza Strip is part of our sphere of influence. Let any Turkish ship, Libyan ship or any other ship we don’t like try to sail into Gaza, and they’ll get a taste of gunboat diplomacy, Israeli-style” …

Continue reading Libyan-chartered ship docks in El-Arish

Tracking the Libyan-chartered boat

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.

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Investigation: As it happened – "IHH statement as Israeli naval warships approached the Mavi Marmara

This statement, an IHH communication dated 31 May, is posted [still] on the IHH website.

It is entitled: “Crisis Furthers In the Mediterranean, Turkish Government Expected To Intervene”, and is posted here.

Here is the sub-title:
“Israeli assault boats are harassing the ships of the Freedom Flotilla, which are carrying humanitarian aid to Palestine. 6 ships are persistently followed by Israeli warships despite being in international waters”.

Here is the text:
“Helicopters and unmanned aircrafts are tracking the ships as well. Israeli officials are calling the Captain of Mavi Marmara and they are constantly harassing the ships. The Captain of Mavi Marmara refused to change the route of the ship. Meanwhile 578 passengers onboard Mavi Marmara have been given life jackets. Passengers were also provided with gas masks. The ships are on alert now. Israel can carry out a possible operation any minute now. They are expected to intercept the ships.

“The activists onboard are trying to make their voices heard through live broadcast. There are women, children and the elderly onboard. The ship is packed with civilians. An operation by the Israeli navy with gas canisters might lead to chaos onboard.

“As the crisis furthers in Mediterranean, Turkish government is expected to interfere. Flotilla organizers expect the Prime Minister of Turkey, Erdogan, to interfere into the situation and stop a possible military operation by Israel.

Continue reading Investigation: As it happened – "IHH statement as Israeli naval warships approached the Mavi Marmara

Investigation: the interview with the Captain of the Mavi Marmara

Here are extended excerpts of an interview with Mahmut Tural, Captain of The Mavi Marmara, about the Israeli Naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla that took place just before dawn on the 31st of May.

The interview was posted on 16 June on the website of the Turkish relief organization IHH, which had chartered the Mavi Marmara for the planned excursion to Gaza.

The interview was apparently conducted by IHH.

Here are excerpts from what Captain Tural had to say, prompted by questions from an interviewer:

“The ships of the convoy gathered in south of Cyprus and sailed on at 4 p.m. on the 30th of May, 2010. The ships were sailing together as a convoy. Our first contact with the Israeli navy was at 10.30 p.m.. They inquired about the ship’s registration details, then they said that Gaza is blockaded area and requested us to change our route. At the time of these calls we were sailing in international waters, around 75 miles off the Israeli coast, in route 222. We were completely away from Israeli territorial waters and heading towards southwest. We told them that we were in international waters and they have no right to request us to change our route.

Q: Were you able to see the Israeli warships?

“No. Israeli ships were not in visible distance yet, but I could guess that they were military warships from the radar echoes which came from 3-4 miles away. Around 11.30 p.m. we changed our route to 185. Our aim was to sail 70 miles away from Israeli waters. We never entered into the zone that they had declared as restricted. The calls continued intermittently from 10.30 p.m. till 02.00 a.m.. From that point on we did not receive any calls or warnings. Israel launched claims like ‘We told them to stop, they did not.’ Between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. we did not receive any calls or warnings. They fired from the helicopters without any warning or call as soon as they neared us.

“We evaluated all the possibilities prior to embarking on this journey, but I was not expecting Israel to carry an attack of this kind in international waters…

Continue reading Investigation: the interview with the Captain of the Mavi Marmara

Israel will not loosen naval blockade of Gaza

As we reported earlier, Israel will maintain its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip even as it accedes to international demands to ease the military-administered sanctions it imposes on the coastal territory.

Israel’s security cabinet met on Sunday, as did the full cabinet. A decision was taken to allow into Gaza (via land crossings only) all materials which are not weapons or “materials used to make weapons” (this could be a very broad list, including sugar).

But boats will not be allowed to travel directly to Gaza.

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EU may form new maritime mission for Gaza

It now appears, two weeks after the Israeli naval raid on the Freedom Flotilla bound for Gaza, that the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza’s maritime space will only be strengthened, with European and American help to engage in a complicated inspection regime in the Mediterranean Sea — while Israeli military-administered sanctions against Gaza via its land crossings will be somewhat eased.

Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, told a special session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, concerning the situation in Gaza, that “It will not be easy to find an agreed way to lift the blockade”…

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