Israel warns of force as Beirut refuses to bow on Gaza boat

Google News (Link) - AFP (August 20, 2010)

Israel said Friday it could use force to stop a new aid boat to Gaza, as Lebanon refused to bow to warnings against authorizing an all-women ship to head for the blockaded Palestinian territory.

In a letter sent to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Israel�s UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said the stated intention of the Bolivian-flagged cargo ship, the Mariam, was �to violate the existing naval blockade of Gaza.�

Israel also had information that another vessel, the Naji al-Ali, plans to leave from a Lebanese port with the aim of violating the blockade, she said.

�Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the aforementioned naval blockade,� Shalev warned.

She said such �confrontational actions by the organizers as well as those that offer their consent, is deeply troubling and requires the attention of the international community.�

Israel came under international censure over its May 31 seizure of a six-ship aid fleet bound for the Palestinian territory when Israeli commandos shot dead nine Turkish activists in a clash on the lead boat.

The Mariam plans to depart north Lebanon for Cyprus on Sunday at 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) on the first leg of a planned voyage to Gaza, according to organizer Samar al-Hajj.

Lebanon�s Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said Friday that Beirut refuses to bow to Israel�s warning against granting clearance to the Mariam.

�We will not respond to the wishes or requests of (Israeli Defense Minister Ehud) Barak, and what he says is of little relevance to us,� he told AFP by telephone.

�We will continue to exercise our sovereignty and make the decisions we find appropriate.�

It is planned that the Mariam, renamed in honor of the Virgin Mary, will carry aid to Gaza in a bid to break Israel�s four-year siege with more than 50 Lebanese and foreign women activists on board, including local pop star May Hariri.

However, Aridi said there was no guarantee the ship would set off on Sunday as Cyprus had not yet granted authorization for the Mariam to dock or to depart for Gaza.

The Cyprus government has said it was keeping in place a ban on the sailing of ships from the island to the Gaza Strip.

The Naji al-Ali, another Lebanese boat organized by journalists, has also announced it would sail to Gaza via Cyprus, but has not yet received clearance from Lebanese authorities.

In Israel, the foreign ministry said Israel�s UN mission had also been instructed to lodge complaints with the secretary general and the Security Council, calling the planned voyage an �unnecessary provocation.�

Diplomats are lobbying for pressure on Lebanon to prevent the ship from sailing, it said.

Barak, meanwhile, called on the Lebanese government to �exercise responsibility and prevent the sailing,� and said Israel would instead allow the ship to sail to an Israeli or Egyptian port.

�In the event that the ship insists on coming, despite the blockade which is in force, Israel will be compelled to stop the ship and direct it to the (Israeli) port of Ashdod,� Barak said.

He warned last month Israel would intercept any ship nearing Gaza and said the Beirut government would be held responsible for allowing flotillas to depart from its shores for Gaza, run by the Islamist movement Hamas.

Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and have no diplomatic ties or maritime links.