Lebanese Gaza-bound flotilla postponed over Cyprus rebuff, organizers say 21Aug10 August 22, 2010

Haaretz -  21 August 2010

A ship carrying women activists and aid will no longer head to Gaza via Cyprus from Lebanon on Sunday, the organizers said, after Nicosia announced it would not allow the vessel to sail from its ports.

“We will not embark tomorrow,” Samar al-Hajj told Reuters

“We are working to find another place [port to sail from]. There are obstacles, difficulties. We won’t give up easily,” she said.

Women activists had planned to take aid to Palestinians in Gaza aboard their vessel, the Mariam, which was due to set sail from Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli for Cyprus on Sunday.

Israel has warned that it will not allow ships to reach Gaza, controlled by the militant Palestinian group Hamas since 2007. Nine pro-Palestinian Turks died on May 31 when Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla of aid vessels heading for Gaza.

Cypriot police said on Friday the arrival and departure of ships to or from Gaza through Cyprus ports was prohibited, prompting the Lebanese transport minister to revoke permission for the ship to sail there, according to the organizers.

Ghazi Aridi told New TV on Friday the ship would not sail as long as Cypriot authorities have refused to receive it. He added Lebanon would not give permission for sail to an unknown party.

Spokeswoman for the Mariam, Rima Farah, said the trip was not cancelled indefinitely but that “it was stalled because we face a reality which imposes that”.

Farah said there was not enough time between now and 10 p.m. on Sunday (1900 GMT), when Mariam was supposed to set sail, to go through the process of finding another port to sail from.

Lebanon does not authorise ships to sail directly to Gaza because it is in a formal state of war with Israel, which controls Gaza waters.

Cyprus was used as a launch pad for activists to reach Gaza by sea from 2008 until mid-2009. Authorities introduced a ban last year, citing the island’s national interests.

Under intense international pressure after its lethal seizure of the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship in May, Israel eased its blockade on Gaza. Israel says it has the right to use “all necessary means” to bar ships from reaching Gaza.

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