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15 Jul, 2010 03:56

“Hope” arrives in Egypt instead of Gaza

The Libyan ship that's carrying aid for Gaza has arrived at the Egyptian port of El-Arish after being shadowed by the Israeli navy and had to change its course.

The ship had been trying to break the naval blockade of Gaza and in place were all the ingredients for an international showdown.

A Libyan ship – renamed “Hope” for the voyage – set sail for Gaza with its organizers vowing to break the Israeli blockade, and the memory of nine Turkish citizens killed in a similar attempt still fresh in everyone’s mind.

But in the end – the captain gave in to Israel’s order, and without much fuss headed for Egypt.

For the Israelis it’s a victory, noting that the US and EU convinced the ship to change its course. But activists disagree. They say the Libyan effort again puts the Gaza story back in the headlines.

Hamas accuses Israel of piracy and insists its refusal to allow aid ships to reach Gaza is in breach of international law.

"The (aid) convoys that travel and still travel must continue because we are now facing a battle to break the blockade imposed on Gaza and this battle is related to the land of Palestine and Jerusalem and to the blockade of Jerusalem, as well," Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniye says.

But the jury’s still out on whether the restrictions Israel has in place are legal or not.

“You can apply a maritime blockade if there is an armed conflict and according to various judgments of the supreme court of Israel, it is an armed conflict that we have with the Hamas and you can apply it to any shore which is either occupied or under the control of the other party,” international law professor Dr. Ruth Lapidoth says.

Last month Israel announced it was easing its blockade on Gaza. But underground tunnels are still how most goods find their way inside. Among the goods smuggled in each month are hundreds of motorcycles. Many of them – used by youngsters desperate for any kind of work.

“There’s no work here – young people can’t get a job. Fuel is also very expensive because of the blockade, which is why most people don’t use taxis or even their own cars. I pay young people to use these bikes to pick up all kinds of goods and deliver them to people’s homes,” Khalil Al-Afranji who works for Gaza delivery services says.

Israel suffered unprecedented diplomatic fallout after the nine Turkish citizens were killed onboard an aid ship in May. But the country still insists its position is legitimate.

A YouTube posting, which has been viewed by nearly half a million people, illustrates what most Israelis believe – world leaders often act as puppets for the Arab world’s legitimization of terrorism.

“We don't upload these songs in order to laugh at those who have been killed. We are not at all against the humanitarian aid going to Gaza. The state of Israel agrees to pass the goods on. But we’re against the provocation, we’re against mercenaries coming here,” musician Noam Jacobson says.

But organisers of the Libyan ship insist their attempt was not a provocation.

Either way – the Middle East breathed a sigh of relief late Wednesday because events ended calmly.