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Flouting Israeli ultimatum, Libyan aid ship continues toward Gaza

By the CNN Wire Staff
The cargo ship Amalthea is loaded at a Greek port last week.
The cargo ship Amalthea is loaded at a Greek port last week.
  • Gadhafi charity's executive director says the ship is bound for Gaza
  • Israeli navy has given the ship an ultimatum
  • Earlier Tuesday, an Israeli official said the captain had agreed to divert to Egypt
  • The ship was sent by the Gadhafi Foundation, which is run by the son of Libya's leader
  • Gaza
  • Israel
  • Middle East

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The executive director of the organization sending a Libyan-backed ship laden with humanitarian goods to Gaza -- in violation of an Israeli blockade -- said Tuesday that the ship's captain has no plans to alter course.

"We confirm that the ship is definitely heading to Gaza; we have no other destination other than Gaza," Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation's Yusuf Sawani told CNNI in a telephone interview from Tripoli, Libya. "This is where we think humanitarian assistance and relief material should go."

Sawani said he was speaking hourly with those aboard the ship, which was located some 60 to 70 km (37 to 43 miles) from Gaza. It was due to arrive at the Palestinian territory about 10 a.m. Wednesday, he said.

The Israeli navy has approached the vessel and given the chief of mission and the ship's captain an ultimatum: Divert to the Egyptian port of al-Arish, he said.

"But our answer will remain as always," he said. "We started sailing toward Gaza and Gaza is our target, and we hope that every party concerned will come to their senses and realize that this is a humanitarian, peaceful mission."

He added, "This is not a propaganda stunt."

Sawani said Sunday that the activists on the boat would not resist if confronted by the Israeli military.

Earlier Tuesday, an Israeli official with knowledge of the communications between the Israeli military and the vessel said the ship's captain had agreed to change course and go to Egypt instead.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hossam Zaki, said Egypt is prepared to grant the Libyan ship docking rights. "We haven't received an official request yet but if we do we will grant permission," Zaki said.

The Israel Defense Forces had said its navy earlier was making "preparations to stop" the ship from delivering aid directly to Gaza, in violation of an Israeli blockade.

The IDF asked the ship to change course for the Egyptian port of al-Arish, a military spokesman told CNN, adding that the military had not intercepted or boarded the ship.

Israel came under fierce international criticism for killing nine Turkish activists in the course of boarding a Gaza-bound ship in May. Israel said the activists attacked its troops when they boarded the boat.

The new aid ship was launched by a charity headed by the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. It set sail from Greece on Saturday carrying 2,000 tons of aid.

Israel says it must inspect all goods that enter Gaza so that weapons do not get into the hands of militants. Gaza is run by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist movement.

The Gadhafi Foundation refers to the ship as the Hope, although it appears to be registered as the MV Amalthea. It is Moldovan-flagged and run by ACA Shipping, based in Greece.

Sawani said thatin addition to the crew members, nine others were on board: Six Libyans, one Moroccan and one person from Niger, all of whom work with the Gadhafi Foundation, plus a journalist from the Al Jazeera network.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Sunday called the ship "an unnecessary provocation."

Barak said Israel would not allow the aid ship to dock in Gaza, but said it could unload goods elsewhere and Israel would allow them to enter the Palestinian territory by land after Israel inspects them.

"Goods can be transferred into Gaza through the port of Ashdod after they are inspected, but we will not allow the transfer of weapons or ammunition into Gaza," he said. "We recommend to the organizers ... to allow navy vessels to escort it to the port of Ashdod or sail directly to al-Arish" in Egypt.

A report Monday on the findings of an Israeli military investigation into the boarding of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in May, in which nine people were killed, criticized some aspects of the operation.

The operation prepared only one course of action and had no backup plan, military commanders were not presented with options other than boarding the ship, and different branches of military intelligence did not coordinate well enough, the report found.

But the report said the commando team that boarded the ship operated properly, with bravery and professionalism, and that the use of live fire was justified.

Israel has resisted demands for an international inquiry into the incident.

Meanwhile, upheaval continued in Gaza on Tuesday evening, when the Israeli military fired at least one shell into a house in Gaza, Palestinian security and medics said.

The dead included a woman and the injured included two women and two children from the the Al-Bureij neighborhood in central Gaza, medics said.

An IDF spokesman said its forces identified suspected militants along a security fence and fired on them; reports of casualties were under investigation.

CNN's Izzy Lemberg and Talal Abu-Rahma and Paul Colsey contributed to this report.