Israel urges Lebanon to prevent blockade-busting ships from sailing to Gaza

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Israel urged Lebanon and the international community on Friday to prevent ships from sailing to Gaza from the Lebanese port of Tripoli to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev said in letters to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council that her country reserves the right under international law "to use all necessary means" to prevent the ships from violating the naval blockade.

Shalev said a group of individuals "with suspected ties to the Hezbollah terrorist organization" has announced that the vessel Mariam will depart from Tripoli on Sunday en route to Gaza via a port in Cyprus, possibly via Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus.

Israel's U.N. spokeswoman said the organizers also are expected to send other vessels to try to break the blockade.

In Tripoli, activist Samar al-Hajj said the Mariam will be carrying medicine and that all the passengers will be women activists.

Al-Hajj said Lebanon's president, prime minister and parliament speaker refused to meet with her, which appeared to signal the government's lack of support for the venture.

A deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship trying to bring aid to Gaza on May 31 killed nine activists and focused international attention on Israel's blockade of Gaza, imposed after the Islamist militant and anti-Israel Hamas violently overran the Palestinian territory in June 2007.

Under growing pressure to open Gaza's borders, Israel decided to let in most consumer goods — in addition to food and medicine — but military and military-related material remain banned, and Gazans are still unable to travel or to export goods.

Shalev said the organizers attempting to break the blockade are aware of "the internationally recognized and unimpeded channels" to ensure delivery of aid to Gaza.

"However, the organizers — similar to previous attempts by others — seek to incite a confrontation and raise tension in our region," she said. "Furthermore, it cannot be ruled out that these vessels carry weapons or individuals with violent intentions."

Shalev noted the "state of hostility" between Israel and Lebanon, and "the ongoing armed conflict" between Israel and Hezbollah.

She called on the Lebanese government "to demonstrate responsibility and to prevent these boats from departing to the Gaza Strip ... (which) will prevent any possible escalation." She also urged the international community to exert its influence to prevent the vessels' departure and discourage their citizens from taking part.

Shalev sent similar letters in late July about two other ships, Junia and Julia, reportedly bound for Gaza with humanitarian aid.