Daily Israel Report

Libyan Ship to Test Israeli Sovereignty over Gaza Coast

A Libyan ship is headed for Gaza in a new effort to break Israeli control over the Gaza Coast. The government has not decided how to respond.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 11/26/2008, 10:19 AM

Israel News Photo: (Flash 90)

A Libyan ship with 3,000 tons of food and medicine is headed for the Gaza coast in a widening effort to break Israeli's sovereignty over coastal waters. Israeli government spokesmen were not aware of the report, published by Afrique-Actualite, but said that a decision if and how to react "will be made when it becomes relevant."

 

The Olmert administration has backed down three times in the past three months and has allowed pro-Arab "Free Gaza" activists to land in Gaza in what began as a symbolic claim to Hamas control over the coastal waters. Israel stated before the withdrawal from Gaza three years ago that it would retain control over the sea and air space until the Palestinian Authority could prove it is putting a stop to terrorism.

 

The Libyan ship left the port of Zouara, approximately 75 miles west of Tripoli, on Tuesday. The Libyan Fund for Aid and Development in Africa donated 500 tons of oil, 750 tons of milk, 1,207 tons of rice, 500 tons of wheat flour and 100 tons of medicine. It is due to arrive in Gaza in one week, according to Lakhdouri Abdelhamid, director of the fund.

 

The aid marks the support of Libya for Gaza residents who Abdelhamid referred to as "victims of an unjust embargo imposed upon them by Israel."

 

Hamas and United Nations officials in Gaza have claimed for more than a year that a humanitarian crisis exists because of Israel's control over shipments of merchandise through Gaza crossings. However, Israel has supervised hundreds of trucks moving humanitarian shipments of food and goods into Gaza.

 

The Israeli defense and foreign ministries each said the other is responsible for statements concerning the attempts to challenge Israeli sovereignty. Yarden Vatikay, international spokesman for the office of the Prime Minister, stated he was not aware of the Libyan ship but said that a decision would be made at the proper time.

 

The Foreign Ministry allowed the Free Gaza movement to dock two boats at Gaza in late August in order to prevent them from exploiting media coverage of the Israeli Navy arresting them at sea.

 

However, the ministry advised against allowing two more voyages but was overruled by officials in the Defense Ministry and office of the Prime Minister. One of the reasons for the reluctance to stop the ship may have been the fear of violence. European legislators joined the last sailing earlier this month.

 

Free Gaza spokeswoman Greta Berlin said the pro-Arab group intends to send two more boats in December. Concerning the Libyan ship, she commented, "Our entire project was to hopefully break Israel's siege and have other boats go to Gaza. If these materialize, we will have done part of that work."

 

Last week, the political arm of the radical Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood said it also is organizing a ship to Gaza.

 

"By dispatching the ships, Jordan will become the first Arab country to take such an initiative," said Muslim Brother spokesman Zaki Bani Rsheid.