LAVRIO, GREECE // A ship commissioned by a Libyan charity organisation made preparations today to set sail to Gaza loaded with aid. It comes over a month after Israel raided Gaza-bound ships, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American on one of them. The flotilla was trying to break Israel's blockade on Gaza. The Moldova-flagged cargo ship Amalthea will leave by Saturday from the port of Lavrio, south of Athens, carrying 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies, according to officials from the organisation. There will be 27 people on board.
Amalthea's journey to Gaza is expected to take up to 80 hours. Aid on the Amalthea includes sacks of rice and sugar, and corn oil and olive paste - all mostly donated from Greek companies and charities, organisers said. The aid was loaded into the hull of the aging vessel by crane. "I am scared, but our lives are in God's hands," head volunteer Adburaufel Jaziri said. "Our job is to help anyone who needs it. We don't care if they are Catholics or Muslims or whatever. Now we are helping the people of Gaza who are suffering."
Israel "can check our cargo and certificates, of course they are free to do this," Mr Jaziri said. "If we cannot deliver the aid, we will let (Israel) deliver it." The Israeli military would not comment on the Libyan ship. Israel's policy has been to offer ships of this type the option of docking at an Israeli port, after which Israel will screen the goods aboard and transfer them into Gaza by land.
Humanitarian aid is allowed into Gaza through land crossings and the Israeli government had increased the flow of goods into the Palestinian territory last week, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Andy David said. "All humanitarian aid goes in freely, therefore the Libyan intention is nothing more than a cheap provocation," he said. In addition to 15 volunteers - all from Libyan except for a Nigerian and one Moroccan - the ship has a crew of 12 from Cuba, Haiti, India, and Syria.
The head of the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation said the people of Gaza are facing a "humanitarian catastrophe" unless they receive urgent aid. "We call on the international community to support this initiative," Youdsef Rawani said. "If swift and urgent help is not given there will be tragic consequences for the people of Gaza." In Gaza, activists and officials involved in previous Gaza-bound sails said they were not contacted by the organisers of the voyage of the Libyan vessel.
"There will be communication, starting in the next 24 hours," said Riyad al-Bitar, a member of a Hamas government committee for ending the blockade. "They didn't inform us of anything. We only learned about it indirectly." Israel's deadly raid on May 31 provoked international outrage. Israel says its naval commandos were acting in self-defence after being attacked by pro-Palestinian activists. Five ships were commandeered without incident, but some of the 600 activists on board the Mavi Marmara, owned by a Turkish Islamic charity, actively resisted, and the soldiers opened fire.
The soldiers, seven of whom were wounded, said their lives were in danger. Activists called their actions self-defence. * AP