Tel Aviv Police Seize Israeli-Arab Boat Set to Deliver Aid to Gaza

Israeli-Arab MK Tibi: This is a cowardly act perpetrated by those who are afraid of a few medical supplies.

Israeli police on Sunday foiled an attempt by Israeli Arabs to set off in a boat from Israel to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip with a cargo of food and medical supplies.

Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip has been stepped up in recent weeks amid a surge of violence along its frontier with the Palestinian territory.

The Israeli Arab Islamist Movement organized what was to have been the first boat journey from Israel to the Gaza Strip with humanitarian supplies.

But police in the port of Jaffa instructed the boat's owner not to set off for Gaza and ordered him to move the vessel to the nearby Tel Aviv marina, where it was put under watch.

"We warned the boat's owner that he would be breaking the law and would be arrested if his boat were to try to sail to Gaza," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Israeli law bans Israeli citizens from traveling to the Gaza Strip, territory Israeli soldiers and settlers quit in 2005.

Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) said in response to the incident that "this is a cowardly act by people and the police who fear our delivery of medication to Gaza's Shifa hospital. The boat trip is a humanitarian act aimed at breaking the cruel siege."

The United Nations and human rights groups have voiced concern about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and called on Israel to ease its blockade.

Last week, the Israeli navy turned back a Libyan ship which Palestinian and Libyan officials said was trying to deliver 3,000 tons of food, medicine and other aid to the Gaza Strip.

Israel, apparently seeking to avoid a public confrontation, had previously allowed several boats carrying pro-Palestinian foreign activists and humanitarian goods to dock in the Gaza Strip after setting sail from Cyprus.

Also Sunday, three residents of northern Israel were detained for questioning after arriving in Jaffa with a truckload of equipment meant to be loaded on the boat. The police explained that they were operating under clause 24 of the disengagement law which requires every Israeli citizen who enters the Gaza Strip to obtain authorization in writing.

Later, the IDF said four Qassam rocket and three mortar shells hit southern Israel on Sunday. There were no injuries reported. Militants fired at least 10 rockets and as many mortar shells at Israel over the weekend.

The sanctions have deepened the hardship for Gaza's largely impoverished population of 1.4 million, though some goods and fuel continue to enter the territory through smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel has no intention of accepting the ongoing fire, indicating Israel could abandon the truce and strike harder at militants in Gaza. But he did not announce any concrete steps.

"Over the last few days I met with the defense minister, and we agreed that we will formulate Israel's position based on guaranteeing that this situation will not continue," Olmert said.

In a move meant to bolster Hamas' moderate rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Israeli government gave its final approval to the release of 230 Palestinian prisoners from groups allied with Abbas' Fatah movement, according to a government statement. Spokesman David Baker said the release, timed to coincide with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, would take place later this week.