Israel stops Togo ship

05/02/2009
Israel stops Togo ship

The Israeli navy on Thursday intercepted and boarded a Gaza-bound Lebanese aid boat at sea and was escorting it to the Israeli port of Ashdod, Defence Minister Ehud Barak said.

"At first the ship understood we were prohibiting it from heading to Gaza and steered towards El-Arish," in Egypt, Barak said."From Egyptian territorial waters it tried to slip into Gaza waters. That is when the Israeli navy boarded it, and it is now taking it to Ashdod," he said.

The military said the crew would be questioned by police and that any humanitarian goods aboard would be taken to the Gaza Strip.

It dismissed claims the navy fired at the vessel.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora called on the international community to press Israel to allow the vessel which was carrying medical supplies, food, clothing and toys, to reach Gaza.

On board the "Brotherhood Ship" were eight people including the former Greek-Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem, Monsignor Hilarion Capucci, who left Jerusalem in the 1970s after serving time in an Israeli jail for membership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The Togolese-registered Tali had passed via the nearby Mediterranean island of Cyprus where authorities inspected the cargo before it headed for Gaza.

An Israeli military spokesman said that by entering Gazan coastal waters, the crew "raised suspicion, as it could threaten security concerns, or furthermore, the boat could be used for smuggling banned equipment (weaponry, etc.) into or out of the Gaza Strip."

He stressed in a statement that "any organization or country that wishes to transfer humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, can do so via the established crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip with prior coordination."

 

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