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A ship that had been slated to sail from Jaffa to the Gaza Strip was halted before ever leaving port yesterday, after the Tel Aviv Police warned the ship's owner that he could be charged with a crime if the ship set sail.

Police also arrested three residents of northern Israel on suspicion of involvement in planning the voyage.

The ship was to have carried a cargo of medicines and other supplies, along with several Arab Knesset members. The stated purpose of the voyage was to break the blockade of Gaza.

Police had received various tips about the planned voyage, and eventually decided to thwart it by warning the owner, a Tel Aviv resident, that if the ship set sail, he could be charged with violating a law enacted to enable implementation of the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. That law forbids Israelis to enter the Strip without a special permit from the Israeli authorities.

The owner was convinced by the warning, issued before dawn, and sailed the ship back to the Tel Aviv marina, where the police seized it. A few hours later, police also located the truck containing the ship's planned cargo and arrested the three men aboard it. Thus when the Arab MKs arrived at Jaffa Port to begin the voyage, they found neither ship nor cargo.

"The closure of Jaffa Port is a cowardly act by those who fear supplying medicines," said MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) in response. "The voyage was a humanitarian act whose goal was to break the cruel siege."