A ship that will set sail from Lebanon in a planned attempt to break Israel's Gaza blockade is a provocation intended to aid a terror organization, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Friday.
- Cyprus to Lebanon: We Will Turn Back Gaza-bound Aid Ship
- Organizers: All-woman Lebanese Aid Ship to Set Sail for Gaza Sunday
The ship, which is set to sail from Lebanon on Sunday, will carry aid and women activists hoping to reach Gaza, despite warnings that they will not be allowed to make it past Cyprus.
"The ship that is preparing to sail from Lebanon has nothing to do with humanitarianism," Barak said, adding that this activity is intended to aid a terror organization whose goal is to "kill Israeli civilians."
Barak called on the Lebanese government to prevent the ship from leaving its ports. He also reached out to international officials who may have some sway in Lebanon, and asked them to encourage the government to prevent the ship from departing for Gaza.
"If the ship insists on arriving, in opposition to the current blockade, Israel will be forced to stop it and bring it to the port of Ashdod," Barak said.
The ship cannot travel directly to Gaza from Lebanon because Beirut is still technically at war with Israel, forcing the vessel to pass through a third country - in this case, Cyprus - before heading for the blockaded Palestinian territory.
But on Thursday, the Cypriot ambassador to Lebanon told The Associated Press that the boat, the Mariam, will be turned back when it reaches Cyprus.
"We decided that such a ship will not be allowed to enter Cyprus and if such a Gaza-bound ship docks in a Cypriot port the crew and the passengers will be deported to their country of origin," Kyriacos Kouros said.
Kouros said Cyprus has a moral and legal responsibility to those allowed into its waters, and that a blockade-busting ship could endanger lives along with regional peace and stability.
But organizer Samar al-Hajj was undeterred Thursday, and said the ship, named after the Virgin Mary, will set out with between up to 75 female activists on a mission to deliver cancer medication, books and toys.
"We are not children who can be told to stay home," al-Hajj told the AP after a chaotic news conference outside the port in Tripoli, where security forces prevented the group from speaking to the media from the ship.
Sending blockade-busting ships has become a highly charged issue since Israeli naval commandos boarded a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships on May 31, killing nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists.