Israeli navy blocks Gaza aid ship
Rory McCarthy, The Guardian. Dec 01, 2008
The Israeli navy today prevented a Libyan ship carrying 3,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid for Palestinians from docking in Gaza.
The al-Marwa, carrying food, blankets and powdered milk, attempted to challenge Israel's tight economic blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has worsened in recent weeks.
But as the ship approached Gazan water at dawn, an Israeli naval ship ordered it to turn back. The al-Marwa headed south and has reportedly docked at al-Arish, an Egyptian port in the northern Sinai just south of Gaza.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said there was no physical contact with the ship but it was ordered back by radio. "This is a policy we have had for a long time: if somebody wants to bring in humanitarian aid they can do it through the border with Egypt or the Israeli passages into Gaza," said the spokesman, Andy David.
However, since the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas won parliamentary elections nearly three years ago, Israel has imposed ever tighter restrictions on Gaza.
When Hamas took full control of Gaza last summer those restrictions became an economic blockade, while Egypt has also kept its one crossing into Gaza at Rafah largely closed.
As a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza has unravelled in the past month, so the blockade has again been tightened. Deliveries of food, aid and fuel have been prevented on most days and journalists have been barred from entering.
Three smaller boats carrying activists and some aid successfully crossed into Gaza from Cyprus without being stopped by the Israeli navy. However, the Israelis moved quickly to prevent the Libyan ship, which carried a much larger cargo, from entering.
A crowd of Palestinians had gathered at the Gaza City harbour from early in the morning ready to meet the ship. Five trucks waited to offload the aid.
"The civilian boat carrying only humanitarian supplies and food was turned away by an Israeli warship," said Jamal Khoudary, a Palestinian MP and head of Gaza's Popular Committee against the Siege.
Some reports suggested the aid might now be unloaded in Egypt and delivered by road, although until now Egypt has been reluctant to turn the Rafah crossing with Gaza into a regular route for deliveries. Egypt does not want to assume responsibility for the strip and is also wary of the influence of Hamas.
Concern is mounting about the humanitarian conditions inside Gaza. Its sole power plant, which relies on fuel deliveries from Israel, paid for by the European Union, was closed for two weeks in November and only restarted last Thursday.
Israel says the crossings are being closed because of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel and because of reported security threats on the crossings themselves.
Every few days a shipment of food or fuel is allowed in but figures from the UN show in the past month an average of less than five truckloads a day have been allowed in, compared to 123 in October and 475 in May last year, just before Hamas took control of Gaza.