Israel turns back Libyan ship that tried to break Gaza blockade
Other nations may seek to deliver aid
GAZA CITY - An eclectic group from Hamas officials to a flag-waving scout troop showed up to greet a Libyan ship planning to flout an Israeli blockade and deliver 3,000 tons of aid to this impoverished seaside strip. But they met only disappointment.
The freighter was turned back yesterday by the Israeli Navy, ending the first high-profile attempt by an Arab country to break the blockade of Gaza. Analysts said the incident showed that Arab and Muslim nations, while eager to end Gaza's isolation, will not risk a military confrontation with Israel.
The Al Marwa was approaching the Gaza coast when it was stopped by an Israeli Navy vessel. The navy vessel ordered the ship by radio to turn back and it complied, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, adding that no force was used.
Israel views control of access to Gaza as a vital security interest and officials are concerned that shipments of food and medicine could include weapons.
Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas, which is violently anti-Israel, seized power last year. The barrier was tightened in recent weeks when Gaza militants resumed firing rockets at Israel.
Gaza's borders have been largely sealed by Israel and Egypt since the Islamic militant group took control by force in June 2007. Occasional passage has been allowed for medical patients, Muslim pilgrims, humanitarian supplies, and a trickle of commercial goods.
The Libyan attempt to reach Gaza came amid increasing discussion in Arab and Muslim countries about providing aid to Gaza in spite of the blockade.
Last week, Arab foreign ministers said in a joint statement in Cairo that their governments would send food and medicine to Gaza, though they did not specify how.
Since Egypt has also retained tight control over its border with Gaza, outsiders are increasingly considering the one remaining way into the territory: the sea.
Since this summer, international activists have organized three trips from Cyprus to Gaza on smaller boats.
Israel did not stop these, allowing the vessels to deliver some medicine and other supplies.