Libya-sponsored Aid Ship Originally Headed for Gaza Enters Egypt Port

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh urged activists not to let their cargo ship be diverted to Egypt's El Arish port and called for more pro-Palestinian "freedom flotillas."

A Libyan chartered aid ship trying to break Israel's Gaza blockade entered an Egyptian port Wednesday after changing course in the Mediterranean Sea.

Libyan aid ship

The director of the Egyptian port of El Arish, Gamal Abdel Maqsoud, said the Libyan boat radioed Wednesday evening asking permission to dock there.

Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, told reporters that Cairo has agreed to let the Amalthea through, and that its cargo will be unloaded and handed over to the Red Crescent to deliver to Gaza.

In recent days, with the Amalthea's organizers insisting it would go to Hamas-ruled Gaza and Israel saying it would not allow that to happen, the stage appeared set for a showdown on the high seas.

Framing the faceoff was Israel's botched attempt to block a similar Gaza-bound aid ship in May, an incident that ended with the deaths of nine Turkish activists in a violent confrontation on board.

Israeli missile ships had been shadowing the Amalthea since Wednesday morning to ensure that it would not reach Gaza. An Al-Jazeera reporter on board the aid boat said Israeli ships were arrayed in a wall meant to prevent the Amalthea from continuing toward the Palestinian territory.

Despite the Israeli insistence that it would not allow the ship through the blockade, Hamas officials in Gaza had been urging the Amalthea to press on.

Speaking at a ceremony naming a street after the nine pro-Palestinian activists killed May 31, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday urged the activists not to let their cargo ship be diverted from Gaza's shore and called in a speech for more pro-Palestinian "freedom flotillas."

"The sea and land convoys must continue. We hope we can depend on Islamic nations to help us lift the blockade," Haniyeh said, referring to a three-year siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel.

Israel Radio reported Wednesday that Jewish Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff had been mediating between Israel and the charity chaired by Saif al-Islam Gadhafi - son of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi - which sponsored the aid ship, in an effort to prevent the vessel from steering toward Gaza.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told Israel Radio, "Anyone who wants to bring materials there which are not dangerous materials - munitions, etcetera - can bring them through El Arish, can bring them through the [Israeli] port of Ashdod."

"What we want is to set the arrangement for inspections, so we can always check and not allow them to bust their way in," Meridor said.

The military spokeswoman said the Amalthea's Cuban captain had promised Israel Navy officials that he would not continue to Gaza and instead sail to El Arish.

The charity that chartered the Amalthea said on Tuesday it would sail to Gaza with its declared cargo of 2,000 tons of food and medicine.

The confusion over where and when the Amalthea would dock prompted an Israeli official to suggest there was disagreement between the hired crew of 12 and some 10 pro-Palestinian activists aboard determined to defy the Gaza blockade.

Israel Radio aired what sounded like the navy warning the captain that he would be held responsible for any showdown at sea and legal ramifications. Other aid ships have been impounded in Israel, with some of their cargo eventually trucked to Gaza.

"You are in charge of the people on the ship, and any attempt to enter the area will be your fault only," a voice that the radio identified as a navy negotiator was heard saying.

The Amalthea set sail from Greece on Saturday on a voyage that would ordinarily see it reach Gaza by Wednesday. Rerouting to El Arish still required the ship to skirt Gaza.