A Libyan-chartered ship carrying aid for Palestinians has docked at the Egyptian port of El Arish after changing course in the Mediterranean Sea, bringing an end to the latest challenge to Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
AFP - A Libyan ship, initially bent on breaking Israel's Gaza blockade, docked in Egypt on Wednesday after agreeing to deliver its cargo of aid through Egyptian territory, an AFP correspondent reported.
The news ended fears of a new confrontation between activists and the Israeli navy, which had threatened to use force if the ship did not either turn back or head for Egypt.
The Libyan charity which chartered the vessel, the Kadhafi Foundation, said it had obtained guarantees from Cairo and from a "European mediator" that Israel would allow the ship's cargo of 2,000 tonnes of food and medicine into Gaza.
Libya has also received the green light to "spend 50 million dollars towards housing construction in the Gaza Strip by winter," the charity's executive director, Yusef Sawan, said, adding that the foundation would also provide 500 prefabricated houses.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Cairo had received a request for the Amalthea to get its cargo of aid to Gaza through Egyptian territory.
"As soon as the ship arrives in El-Arish, Egyptian authorities will unload its cargo and hand the aid to the Egyptian Red Crescent, which will deliver it to the Palestinian side," he said.
Port officials said they expected the Amalthea to be unloaded on Thursday.
Eight Israeli warships shadowed the freighter through the day, four on either side, to prevent it from heading to the Gaza coast, Sawan told AFP.
"Out of concern for the security of everybody on board, the foundation decided to head for El-Arish," he added.
On May 31, Israeli commandos stormed a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, killing nine Turkish activists and sparking an international outcry.
A senior Israeli military official had told the Maariv daily that the navy was not expecting any problems from those on board the Libyan-chartered vessel but they were prepared to respond if it became necessary.
"We do not expect any resistance," he said. "But if our soldiers do encounter problems, they will not hesitate to use force."
Earlier on Wednesday, Tony Blair, the representative of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, urged "all sides to act with restraint."
"The most important thing is to avoid confrontation, which is why the established channels for delivering aid to Gaza should be used in accordance with the new policy we have been working on," the former British premier said.
After news of the docking, Richard Miron, spokesman for UN Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry, said "we are pleased that the ship has got to El-Arish so that the cargo can be transferred by established channels.
"We have sought to avoid any confrontation and we continue to call on those involved to excercise calm and restraint."
In the face of the outcry over its deadly commando operation in May, Israel agreed to ease its four-year-old land blockade of Gaza.
Israel says it now blocks only weapons and other goods which could be of military use to the Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Palestinian territory.
It insists that its naval blockade will remain in place, however, to prevent Palestinian armed groups from bringing in weapons by sea.
Earlier this week, the Israeli military published the results of an internal inquiry into the May raid, which found that while mistakes had been made, the troops' use of live fire was "justified".
And Israel again defended its actions during a hearing of the UN Human Rights Committee on Wednesday.
"No ship can breach this blockade, be they civil or military ships. Whoever violates the blockade is heading for retaliation," Israeli envoy Sari Rubenstein told the committee.
The 92-metre (302-foot) Amalthea had left Greece on Saturday carrying a crew of 12, the shipping agent said. There were also nine passengers -- six Libyans, a Nigerian, a Moroccan and an Algerian.
Date created : 2010-07-14