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MPs say Israel navy surrounds Libya aid ship

July 13, 2010 1:59 P.M. (Updated: July 13, 2010 8:40 P.M.)
Gaza/Bethlehem – Ma'an – A PLC member in Gaza and an Israeli MK reported Tuesday afternoon that warships had surrounded a Libyan aid ship 100 kilometers off the Gaza coast.

A military spokesman said he could not confirm the reports, made to Ma’an from Jamal Al-Khudari in Gaza and MK Ahmad Tibi in Jerusalem.

Tibi and Al-Khudari, who are both reportedly in touch with the ship's organizers, said the crews were determined to continue to their destination, the Gaza City Port.

Al-Khudari said he believed Israeli warnings were serious, noting the similarity of the Israeli actions to the 31 May attack on a ship from the Freedom Flotilla, when commandos belayed on board and shot nine passengers in order to commandeer the vessel. A recent military investigation into the incident found no fault with the actions.

Shortly after noon, the Israeli military made radio contact the ship which left the Greek port of Athens on Saturday under a Moldovan flag.

An Israeli military spokesman said first contact was made with the boat over 100 miles from the shore. "It wasn't a warning," the representative added, saying forces made contact to ask who was on board, and "clarified it was not allowed to dock in Gaza. It was not an ultimatum."

He added that the boat "will not enter Gaza."

Radio Israel reported the contact involved a request to the captain of the ship to dock in the Egyptian port of Al-Arish, and to abandon plans to dock in Gaza City. The Associated Press quoted Libyan organizers saying the crew had been contacted and ordered to change course, though military officials denied the report.

The Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation said its boat refused to alter its destination and will steam on for Gaza, the AP said.

Al-Khudari earlier told German press agency DPA that Israeli attempts to convince the ship to dock in Al-Arish or Ashdod "have failed."

At the time, and Isralei military spokeswoman said to the best of her knowledge the ship had not responded.

Hours earlier, senior Hamas member Ahmed Yousef announced that in 24-hours, a Libyan ship would dock in the Gaza City Port, and finish the mission of the Mavi Marmara.

Speaking for the committee to end the Gaza siege, Yousef called on Arab states to support the ship, organized by the son of Libyan President Mumar Gadhafi.

Yousef's encouragement came the day after hundreds rallied in Gaza City, encouraging the ship to stay its course, following rumors that it would divert to the Egyptian port city of Al-Arish.

At the same time, Israeli media said the nation's military was preparing to once again stop aid ships en route to Gaza using "forceful interdiction," while a report from the Jewish Telegraph Agency said the Israeli foreign ministry warned the military not to intercept the ship in international waters.

According to the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, the same recommendation was made in advance of the Freedom Flotilla, which was attacked 91 miles from the Gaza coast.

Earlier attempts to break the siege

While the interception of the Rachel Corrie ship in early June was peaceful, passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara, a cargo ship sailing under the Turkish flag as part of the Freedom Flotilla, attempted to fight off Israeli commandos boarding the vessel. The resistance cost nine Turks their lives, one of whom was a dual Turkish-American citizen.

The Israeli military found its soldiers were not at fault in an internal investigation already being criticized for bias, while a second state investigation has yet to get underway as members of the investigation team and peace groups demand an expanded mandate for the inquiry, after Israel refused to participate in an international investigation of the attack, which occurred in international waters.

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