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Will Libya aid ship force more changes to Israel's Gaza blockade?

The Libya-sponsored Almathea is the latest of several attempts to break Israel's Gaza blockade since a fatal raid killed nine pro-Palestinian activists on May 31.

By Correspondent / July 12, 2010

Crates of cooking oil are loaded onto the cargo ship 'Amalthea' at the port of Lavrio, about 37 miles southeast of Athens, on July 9. A charity headed by the second son of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is sending an aid boat from Greece to Gaza to break the Israeli "siege," the organizers said.

Louisa Goulimaki/AFP Photo/Newscom


Tel Aviv, Israel

As a potential confrontation looms between Israel and the Libyan sponsors of a Gaza-bound aid ship, Israel's naval blockade of the impoverished coastal strip faces a new test.

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A charity headed by Saif Qaddafi, the son of Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi, has organized a ship with a cargo of 2,000 tons food stuffs. Saif Qaddafi joins groups in Iran and Lebanon – all countries which Israel views as hostile – in declaring a desire to reach Gaza.

The international furor over Israel's killing of nine pro-Palestinian activists in late May weakened the Israeli siege on Gaza, but follow-up efforts have fizzled.

"It's not an easy thing to organize such ships…. There is much talk but little action. That doesn’t mean in another couple of months there won't be another action," says Shlomo Brom, a fellow at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.

"What we can learn from the previous attempts is that when the ship is manned by a few activists, it is not a problem," adds Mr. Brom, a former head of strategic planning in the Israeli army. "It becomes a problem when there are many people on board."

First Israeli report on flotilla raid

There were more than 500 activists on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship that was raided by Israeli commandos. In contrast, there are only 27 on board Mr. Qaddafi's ship, the Amalthea, according to the Israeli Arab parliament member Ahmed Tibi, who has been in telephone contact with the Almalthea's organizers.

After reaching the island of Crete on Sunday, the ship is back at sea heading toward Gaza. It should reach its destination by Wednesday unless intercepted by Israel, he says. Carrying 2,000 tons of aid cargo for Gaza, he says the activists have no plans to clash with Israeli soldiers.

"The ship is a double message: a political and humanitarian protest against the siege,'' Mr. Tibi says. "They [the Almalthea organizers] can't sit quietly amid what is going on in Gaza."

The mission comes as an Israeli military commission reviewing the military's handling of the Mavi Marmara intercept issued a critical report Monday. Led by retired general Giora Eiland, the so-called Eiland commission found flawed Israeli preparation – notably intelligence and battle guidelines – heading into the raid. But it did not call for any senior leaders to resign over the incident.

Activists wary of Israeli force?