UN patrol ship and Lebanese Coast Guard
UN patrol ship and Lebanese Coast GuardIsrael news photo: courtesy of MilitaryPhotos

The United States has warned Lebanon to steer clear of the current effort by various elements to escalate tensions with Israel by attempting to violate its maritime sovereignty over Gaza waters.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the U.S. State Department urged Lebanon to “behave responsibly” and not to try to send aid to the Hamas terrorist-ruled Gaza region by sea.

Instead, organizers who are planning an “aid flotilla” similar to the one sponsored last month by the terror-linked Turkish organization IHH, were told to send their aid via the approved overland routes.

The Beirut-based group said that one of the two boats it plans to send to Gaza from Lebanon has already received approval from the government to set sail for Cyprus.

In order to reach Gaza, however, the boats must also receive approval from the Cypriot authorities prior to departure from their local port. But organizers said they might avoid this problem by simply changing course on their way to Cyprus and heading directly for Gaza.

“Direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective under the circumstances,” the U.S. statement said. “We, along with our partners in the Quartet, urge all those wishing to deliver goods to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza.”

The Quartet – comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – has repeatedly called on Hamas to officially recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and uphold prior agreements.

“There is no need for unnecessary confrontations, and we, along with our partners in the Quartet, call on all parties to act responsibly in meeting the needs of the people of Gaza,” the statement continued.

Lebanese and foreign journalists have said they are planning to be aboard the two vessels, along with the activists and the alleged aid. According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the two groups behind the operation are Journalists without Borders and the Free Palestine Movement. The ITIC added, however, that the vessels were purchased and the flotilla was organized with backing from Syria and the Lebanese Hizbullah terrorist organization. “Neither of them wants to expose its true identity,” said ITIC.

Israel has warned that it will act to prevent the flotilla from reaching Gaza if the organizers fail to heed its warnings and those of the international community.

“Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the existing naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip,” wrote Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, in a letter last Friday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “While those who organize this action claim that they wish to break the blockade on Gaza and to bring humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, the true nature of the actions remains dubious,” Shalev added. “The organizers of these boats have made repeated assertions to the media that they wish to be Shahids [martyrs].”

The Lebanese government has said, meanwhile, that it does not allow vessels to set out from its ports to any destination under Israeli sovereignty, since the Jewish State is considered an enemy nation. In addition, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrols the waters off the Lebanese coast, and it is not clear what role the UN vessels might play in preventing an attempt by flotilla organizers to send the boats to Gaza, whether directly or via Cyprus.