The United Nations said Friday that aid destined for the Gaza Strip should be delivered by land, after Israel said it would prevent a Lebanese Gaza-bound aid flotilla from breaking the sea blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
"There are established routes for supplies to enter by land. That is the way aid should be delivered to the people of Gaza," United Nations spokesman for the Secretary-General Martin Nesirky said in a press conference.
"Our stated preference has been and remains that aid should be delivered by established routes, particularly at a sensitive time in indirect proximity talks between Palestinians and Israelis," Nesirky added.
Israel urged Lebanon and the international community to prevent two ships from sailing to Gaza from a Lebanese port, warning that efforts to break the blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory would be stopped.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued a statement on Friday saying that the Lebanese Gaza-bound aid ships were an "unnecessary provocation" like other flotillas heading toward the blockaded coastal city.
"We hold the Lebanese government responsible for preventing the flotilla from departing today, and if it does depart it will be accompanied by Israel's Navy to the Ashdod port," he said, adding that "if the ship refuses to be accompanied to Ashdod we will have no choice but to apprehend it in open waters."
Earlier, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, accused organizers of the aid ships Junia and Julia of "seeking to incite a confrontation and raise tensions in our region."
A deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship trying to bring aid to Gaza on May 31 killed nine activists and focused international attention on Israel's blockade of Gaza, imposed after the Islamist militant and anti-Israel Hamas violently overran the Palestinian territory in June 2007.
In letters to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, Shalev said, "Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the ... naval blockade."
She called on Lebanon's government to "demonstrate responsibility and prevent the two ships, Junia and Julia, from departing."
"Israel and Lebanon remain in a state of hostility," Shalev said, "and such action will prevent any escalation."
"Israel further calls upon the international community to exercise its influence in order to prevent these boats from departing and to discourage their nationals from taking part in such action," she said.
Shalev said it can't be ruled out that the Junia and Julia are carrying weapons or individuals with provocative and confrontational intentions.
Under the old blockade rules, only basic food and medicine were allowed into
Gaza. In a first step after the flotilla raid, Israel decided to let in most consumer goods but said Gazans would continue to be banned from travel and exporting goods for the time being.
Egypt also decided to ease its closure of Gaza after the flotilla raid, opening its borders to restricted travel and limited humanitarian convoys. The move restored a link to the outside world for at least some of Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians.
Shalev highlighted that "all goods that are not weapons or material for war-like purposes are now entering the Gaza Strip through appropriate mechanisms that ensure their delivery as well as their civilian nature."
She said the organizers of the Junia and Julia are "aware of these channels to deliver aid to Gaza but similar to previous attempts by others are seeking confrontation."
In the latest challenge to the blockade, a Libyan aid ship blocked by Israeli missile ships from steaming to Gaza arrived in the Egyptian port of el-Arish on July 14. Its cargo was to be unloaded and handed over to the Red Crescent to deliver to Gaza.
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