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Gaza Aid Ship 'Diverted to Egypt'

A Libyan aid ship originally bound for the Gaza Strip has been diverted to a port in Egypt after the Israeli navy warned the vessel against trying to break an Israeli blockade on the Palestinian coastal territory.

Workers load supplies on to a cargo ship 'Amalthea' at the Lavrio port, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of Athens on July 9. The Libyan aid ship resumed its voyage on Wednesday after stalling overnight, with the organisers insisting it was on course for Gaza and defying calls by the Israeli navy to dock in Egypt.… Read more » (AFP/File/Louisa Gouliamaki) Israeli warships were shadowing the Moldovan-flagged Amalthea, carrying 2,000 tonnes of food and medicine, to its diverted destination of El Arish port on the Egyptian Sinai coast.

"Eight Israeli warships are surrounding the Libyan aid ship for Gaza and preventing the continuation of its journey," Yousseuf Sawani, executive director of the Gaddafi Foundation which charteredthe vessel, said early on Wednesday.

Sawani said earlier that the warships were "threatening" the Amalthea, also known as Al Amal, which he said was still headed for Gaza. But he made it clear that those on board would not violently resist any efforts to stop them.

"First and foremost, we want to arrive to Gaza. If this is impossible, we don't want to subject anyone to danger," he told Al Jazeera.

Sawani said that communications with the boat had been jammed and the vessel was moving at a slow pace because of the Israeli warships that were trailing it.

An Egyptian official confirmed that the ship sought and received permissionto sail to El Arish, where authorities would unload its humanitarian aid cargo and transfer it by land to Gaza.

But he said that there was "no co-ordination at the moment with the ship and we do not know where its final destination is".

Possible disputes

An Israeli official hinted at possible disputes between the chartered crew and passengers over the destination.

"It's far from clear that there is agreement about where the ship is headed," said the official, who had been briefed on the navy's radio exchanges with the Amalthea since contact was made with it some 160km from Gaza Strip's shores.

Just before midnight, the ship's crew said they were stuck because of engine trouble.

In a recording played on Israel radio, a crew member said he did not know how long it would take to repair the main engine and resume the journey.

Amalthea was still around 90km from land but is not expected to dock for another day. It is carrying 12 crew members and at least nine passengers, including six Libyans and one each from Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria.

Overland convoy

A separate attempt to deliver aid relief and medical supplies to Gaza is also currently under way.

A convoy of 150 people, including "unionists, journalists and academics", is travelling overland in 25 vehicles from Jordan to the Egyptian Rafah crossing.

These challenges to the blockade come a day after Israel's military admitted mistakes in the May 31 attack on a flotilla of aid vessels trying to breach the blockade.

Nine pro-Palestinian activists, eight Turks and a dual US-Turkish citizen, were killed after Israeli soldiers boarded the lead ship Mavi Marmara.

Following an international outcry over the raid, Israel recently eased restrictions on the Gaza Strip, allowing some previously banned items into the territory.

But construction materials remain heavily restricted, Gazans have very limited freedom of movement, and Israel still enforces a naval blockade of the territory.

 Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
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