Israel turns back Libyan aid ship headed for Gaza

Israel forced a Libyan ship with humanitarian aid heading for the Gaza Strip to turn around Monday, dpa reported.

A spokesman for the Israel Foreign Ministry told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa "the Navy had made radio contact with the ship and ordered it to turn around, which it did."

Since August, three other vessels with humanitarian activists and aid have reached Gaza's shores after the Israel Navy avoided a confrontation and let them through despite initial threats to block their way. Israel at the time said it did not want to grant the organizers, the Free Gaza movement, undue attention by creating a confrontation.

Israeli media said Israel acted differently with the Libyan ship because it belonged to an "enemy state." The Libyan ship was also decidedly bigger that the three Free Gaza vessels.

Israel Navy gunboats intercepted the ship several kilometres off Gaza's shores shortly after dawn Monday, forcing it to change direction to the nearby Egyptian coast city of al-Arish.

Jamal al-Khodary, the head of Gaza's Popular Committee Against the Siege said the ship, which is carrying 3,000 tons of food and medical supplies, is likely to make another attempt at entering the strip's coastal waters.

He said his action group was holding contacts with Libya's health minister, Arab-Israeli lawmakers and the ship's crew. "The ship is likely to return as a result of these ongoing contacts," he told reporters in Gaza.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the radical Islamic Hamas movement, meanwhile said the ship had both the "legal, Arab, moral and humanitarian authorization" to enter Gaza. He also urged Egypt to open its own border with the Gaza Strip.

The voyage was the first attempt to break the Israeli blockade against Gaza by an Arab state.

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