The Israeli navy turned back a Libyan ship on Monday as it tried to transport humanitarian aid to the blockaded Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said.
The ship, laden with 3,000 tons of goods, was stopped several kilometers off Gaza’s shores and ordered to return to the port of al-Arish in Egypt, said Palestinian MP Jamal Khodary, who heads an international campaign against the Israeli blockade.
Israel said there had been no physical confrontation between its naval vessels and the Libyan ship.
"They understood that the navy was there and decided to turn around," said Andy David, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We have a very clear policy (on the blockade) which is constantly publicized."
Israel sealed off its crossings with Gaza — the impoverished territory’s main gateway for food and humanitarian aid — as well as its maritime borders after Hamas seized power there in June 2007.
Imposed to generate political pressure on Hamas leadership, the blockade has been stepped up in recent weeks amid renewed tensions and tit-for-tat exchanges of fire that threatened to destroy an Egyptian-brokered June 19 ceasefire.
But Israel has in the past allowed ships carrying humanitarian goods to dock in Gaza to avoid a public confrontation.
The Libyan boat is the first such effort to break the blockade by an Arab state, although European and other pro-Palestinian activists have since August made three trips from Cyprus without being intercepted by the Israeli navy.
The Libyan consignment consisted of 1,200 tons of rice, 750 tons of milk, 500 tons of oil, 500 tons of flour and 100 tons of medicine, said the Libyan Fund for Aid and Development in Africa, which chartered the vessel.
Gazans have faced severe food, medicine and energy shortages because of the Israeli blockade, receiving only about 30 percent of 2005 supply levels according to United Nations statistics.
(Agencies via Alarabiya.net)