Israel orders Gaza aid ship to divert

Signalling forceful interception in case of non-compliance, the Israeli Navy on Tuesday confronted a Libyan aid ship trying to breach Israel's three-year-old blockade of Hamas ruled Gaza Strip and ordered it to divert its course. But the captain of the ship rejected the order, setting course for a new confrontation over the blockade.

Aboard the 92-metre vessel are a crew of 12 from Haiti, India and Syria, under the command of a Cuban-born captain, local media reports said. Most of the activists on board are from Libya, except for one Nigerian, one Algerian and one Moroccan, it added.

An Israeli Navy vessel warned the Moldovan-flagged Greek registered cargo vessel Amalthea — renamed Hope by activists — that it was entering a closed military zone. "The navy just began its process of trying to stop the ship," an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson said adding, "At this time the process of communicating with them has begun."

The aid vessel, carrying 15 pro-Palestinian activists and 2,000 tonnes of food and medicine, is expected to arrive off the coast of Gaza by Wednesday morning.

The vessel, which left Greece on Saturday afternoon, was commissioned by the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, headed by Saif Al-Islam Gadhafi, second son of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi. "The ship's captain was asked by the gunboat crew to go to El-Arish port instead, stressing that the vessel will not be allowed to go into Gaza at all," the foundation said in a statement on its website.

"The captain and the head of the foundation's team on board affirmed that the ship's sole destination is Gaza, asserting that it is carrying humanitarian aid and has no other purpose whatsoever, while the gunboat is still present near the ship," the organisation added.

Meanwhile, Israeli military sources were quoted in the local media as saying that they will not hesitate to forcefully repel the efforts to break Gaza blockade despite recent international hue and cry over Israel's deadly raid on another Gaza bound aid ship on May 31 in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry on uesday advised the defence establishment to wait until the ship approaches or enters the coastal Strip's territorial waters before making any attempt to stop it, to avoid the risk of breaking international law.

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