News / Middle East

Tensions Rise as Gaza Aid Ship Leaves Greek Port

A ship carrying international aid to the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip has set sail, raising concerns in Israel. It is not clear exactly where the ship is headed.

Israeli and Greek officials say a ship commissioned by a Libyan charity has changed plans to sail directly to Gaza and will go instead to the nearby Egyptian port of El Arish. The Moldovan ship set sail from Greece carrying 27 people and 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies for the Palestinians.

After intense diplomacy, Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman convinced Moldovan and Greek authorities not to allow the ship to sail to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli naval blockade. Egypt was persuaded to receive the vessel.

Regional tensions have been running high since Israeli commandos intercepted an aid flotilla trying to break the blockade six weeks ago. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed, sparking international outrage.

Osama Mahmid, an engineer on the ship, told Egyptian television that the vessel is currently heading to Egypt.

But he said the ship is fully prepared to sail to the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, Jamal al Khudari, who heads the Palestinian Committee for Lifting the Siege, said the destination is clear.

"The ship is sailing to Gaza and nowhere else," he said.

Israeli gunboats will be deployed at sea to make sure that the ship heads for Egypt and does not change course for Gaza. If it does, it will be intercepted by the navy.

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