Lebanon warns Israel over flotilla 22Jun10 June 23, 2010

Palestine Note -  22 June 2010

Lebanon plans to hold Israel responsible for any attack made on aid ships sailing to Gaza, AFP News Agency reported Tuesday.

“Israel will be held fully responsible for any attack on Lebanon,” Foreign Minister Ali Ashami said in a letter to the United Nations.

The Lebanese warning came after mirrored statements from Israel earlier this week. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that Lebanon would be responsible for any “violent and dangerous confrontation.” Israeli ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev also made clear last week that Israel would be justified in using “all necessary means” to stop any activist ships.

Lebanon has remained steadfast in its support of the aid voyages. “[Lebanon] cannot prohibit a ship from leaving its ports if its cargo, passengers and destination all comply with Lebanese law,” Ashami insisted. Two Lebanese ships are currently in line to set sail. The ‘Julia’ has already been cleared for departure, Haaretz reported, as has the all-female crewed ‘Mariam.’

The ships will not sail directly to the Gazan coast, however, as Lebanon exists in a continued state of war with Israel. To circumnavigate the issue, Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said,  the ships will pass first through Cyprus. “Now what the Cypriots will decide, I don’t know,” Aridi said. “Cyprus may not allow them to sail to Gaza.”

The Cypriot government last month issued a ban on any ships sailing to Gaza, according to the Boston Globe. Nevertheless, the ban could be sidestepped by sailing to a port on the Turkish Cypriot north. Turkey itself has already sponsored aid ships of the kind sailing from Lebanon, including the May 31 flotilla that was raided by Israeli commandos and resulted in the deaths of nine passengers.

Another aid ship on its way

Reports emerged today of another ship sailing with aid for the Strip. The Iranian Red Crescent said its ship will depart June 27 from the southern port of Bandar Abbas, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

The announcement came as US and European officials said a fleet currently moving into the Red Sea is unrelated to the Iranian voyage, Newsweek reported. The movement of the 12 American ships, along with at least one Israeli vessel, alarmed many who worried a naval showdown was on the horizon. The US naval commission assured that the fleet’s movement was only meant “[to relieve] the Dwight D. Eisenhower [carrier group] as part of a routine rotation of forces.”

Meanwhile, the Iranian ship continues to prepare for its departure. The Iranian Red Crescent insists that it will “respect international laws” and that “[they] aren’t seeking adventurism.” Israeli Foreign Minister Yigal Palmor has insisted that the voyage “clearly has nothing to do with humanitarian assistance.”

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