Libya accused Israel of piracy at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday for preventing a Libyan ship from delivering humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip.
The Libyan boat, Al-Marwa, turned back in the face of an Israeli naval blockade on Monday. Libyan and Palestinian officials said it was carrying 3,000 tons of food, medicine and other aid to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Libyan UN Ambassador Giadallah Ettalhi told the 15-nation council that the Israeli action was "an act of piracy" as defined by the UN convention on law of the sea.
He asked the council "to take the necessary urgent actions to allow the ... ship to enter the port and unload its cargo." He added that Libya would allow the United Nations or other organizations to confirm that its cargo was purely humanitarian.
Ettalhi said he hoped the council would agree to issue a statement condemning the Israeli move, which would require the backing of all 15 council members. The council took no immediate action on the Libyan draft statement.
Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev defended her country's decision not to let the Libyan ship reach Gaza and said it was unfortunate that the council had been "outrageously compelled" by Libya to discuss the incident.
"No member state of this council, nor any other member of the United Nations, would allow a shipment originating from a hostile state to reach a territory that serves as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against its civilians," she said.
She added that if Libya, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, had wanted to get humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza, it could have been delivered by one of the international aid organizations active there.
Imposed to generate political pressure on Islamist Hamas, the blockade has been stepped up in recent weeks amid a surge in border clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.
The Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, praised Libya's attempt to deliver aid to Gaza's 1.5 million people, most of whom rely on aid. He expressed regret that it was not allowed to reach Gaza.
Mansour told the council it was "imperative that Israel be compelled ... to lift its siege of the Gaza Strip."
U.S. envoy Alejandro Wolff rejected the Libyan suggestion that Israel had been guilty of piracy as "absurd." He said piracy was defined as an act committed by private persons for private gain, not by the navy of a sovereign country.
He said Libya's decision to send a ship directly to Gaza was "dangerous and irresponsible" and that "provocation and perhaps even propaganda" appeared to be Tripoli's objective.
Other council envoys voiced concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and urged Israel to lift the blockade.
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