Libyan Aid Ship Bound for Gaza to Be Rerouted to Egypt, Israeli Sources Say

Gadhafi's son behind vessel carrying 15 activists and 2,000 tons of supplies.

The ship dispatched to sail to Gaza by Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of the Libyan leader, is now expected to dock at the Egyptian port of El-Arish and not try to break the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza, senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said yesterday.

The developments follow intensive Israeli efforts in recent days. Nonetheless, Al Jazeera television reported last night that the ship, the Al-Amal, had not changed course and was expected to dock in the Gaza Strip within the next day or two. The ship's captain also denied any plan to proceed to El-Arish.

Libyan cargo aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship

Yesterday evening, the Greek foreign ministry said the ship was headed for the Egyptian port and not Gaza, saying the matter had been verified with the Libyan ambassador in Athens and a shipping representative. The Greek shipping agent confirmed yesterday that official ship documents show the vessel's destination as El-Arish.

In its diplomatic efforts, Israel approached several countries with the ability to stop the ship or influence its course; Jerusalem also sent messages to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi and his son through a third party.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke a number of times in recent days with the foreign minister of Greece, from where the Libyan ship is to set sail, to verify that the vessel was not headed for Gaza. He was also in touch with his Moldovan counterpart because the ship is operating under the Moldovan flag.

Sources at the Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed that an agreement has been reached with both Moldova and Greece that the ship will proceed to the Egyptian port.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman yesterday, seeking Egypt's agreement to receive the boat. Barak made it clear that Israel opposes the arrival of ships in Gaza that have not been inspected for weapons and items that could be used for military purposes.

Israel's ambassador at the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, sent a letter on the matter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the president of the General Assembly, Ali Treki - a former Libyan foreign minister. She expressed hope the international community would influence Libya not to send the ship to Gaza.

She added that Israel had lifted the civilian blockade on the Gaza Strip, so there was no need for a ship to arrive in Gaza outside of normal channels to aid the people of the territory.

Al Jazeera reported that the ship remained headed for Gaza, despite reports from Israel to the contrary. As far as is known, the ship has a crew of 12 in addition to 15 activists and cargo consisting of 2,000 tons of humanitarian supplies.

MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al ), who spoke to people on board, told Haaretz that the ship is only carrying humanitarian aid. "[The cargo] consists of food, particularly baby food, cereal, various kinds of juice, various medicines, especially for kidney patients, a generator and other aid that doesn't include prohibited items," he said.

He added that the activists were not carrying weapons such as clubs, and that the main message the ship sought to convey was humanitarian and political - for the siege of Gaza to be lifted. He said the passengers on the ship included a limited number of activists from a Libyan non-profit organization and foreign nationals.

The Israel Defense Forces says the ship is not likely to reach Gaza because of the efforts made by Lieberman and Barak. The IDF said the ship is expected to dock in El-Arish with its cargo transferred to Gaza after being inspected. IDF officials said the Libyan ship is thought to be too large to dock in Gaza and the Israeli response to the Mavi Marmara at the end of May is thought to have created a deterrent to future attempts to run the naval blockade.

Nonetheless, the Israel Navy is on alert for ships seeking to break the blockade.