Palestinians await Lebanese flotilla
Palestinians ride boats in a preparation for the arrival of a Gaza-bound flotilla from Lebanon on June 21, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Lebanese authorities have granted a Gaza-bound ship carrying aid and activists permission to sail to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Transport Minister Ghazi al-Aridi said the ship, Julia, is now docked at the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli and can set sail once it is cleared by port authorities there.

Aridi's comments came in an interview with a local Lebanese TV channel late Sunday.

He said the ship would be allowed to sail to Cyprus and not directly to Gaza because Lebanon and Israel were technically in a state of war.

"We have been granted permission to go to Cyprus and we are now in the process of making final preparations," said Yasser Kashlak, a Syrian of Palestinian origin who heads the group organizing the trip- the Free Palestine Movement.

Organizers said the ship plans to sail in the next few days, but did not give an exact date for departure because of security concerns.

Kashlak said the ships would be carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza and would be searched at a port in Cyprus.

"We will abide by international and marine laws and will be subject to international inspection," he said.

Lebanese law requires every ship leaving the country's ports to obtain official permission. Lebanese law also forbids sailing to ports under Israeli control - including Gaza, which it categorizes as under Israeli occupation.

The ship's organizers said Monday they plan to sail in the next few days. They did not give an exact date for departure because of security concerns.

Aridi, meanwhile, denied the existence of the Miriam, a second ship that was supposedly organized by 50 Christian and Muslim Lebanese women to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Aridi said this was a public relations campaign spearheaded by the women.
Despite Aridi's remarks on the Miriam, Palestinian sources said there would be a welcome ceremony for the Miriam at Gaza's port, regardless of whether the ship docks there physically.

"The voice and message [of the Miriam] has already arrived in Gaza, regardless of whether the ship arrived physically or not," one Palestinian source said.

On Sunday, Lebanese sources involved in organizing the flotilla said that activists were on their way to the country to take part in the latest attempt to break Israel's maritime blockade on Gaza.

The participants, including several nuns, have yet to arrive in Lebanon from various European countries, but will be coming "very soon," the sources said.

Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, warned Friday that the attempt by the organizers to sail from Lebanon and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza could escalate tensions and affect peace and security in the region.

She cited in particular the ships' departure from Lebanon which remains in a state of hostility with Israel. She also cited a possible link between the organizers and the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah group.