Israeli navy intercepts Lebanese boat of Gaza aid

JERUSALEM — The Israeli navy intercepted a ship delivering 60 tons of supplies to the Gaza Strip from Lebanon today in the latest bid to defy Israel’s blockade of the militant-held territory.

The Israelis fired at the ship before boarding it and beating those on board, said reporters from Arab TV stations Al-Jadeed and Al-Jazeera, who were on the vessel.

Gunfire could be heard in the background of the telephoned reports aired by their stations.

The Israeli navy said no gunshots were fired on the ship as it boarded and seized the vessel. The navy towed the ship, which set sail Tuesday from Lebanon, to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, where it could be seen moored at the quayside.

Lebanon’s prime minister condemned the “blatant attack” and one of the organizers of the voyage called it a kidnapping. But Israel said the ship tried to slip past its navy after agreeing to sail to Egypt instead.

The Israeli military said those on board the ship, the Tali, would be handed over to Israeli immigration authorities — and that the aid would be transferred to Gaza by land.

Israel has kept Gaza’s cargo crossings largely closed since the Hamas militant group seized control of the coastal strip in June 2007.

Disagreements over opening the Gaza blockade led Hamas negotiators to leave talks in Egypt today on a long-term cease-fire with Israel. The Hamas team was later stopped at an Egypt-Gaza border crossing with millions of dollars and Euros in their suitcases, an Egyptian security official said.

The organizers of the aid ship, Lebanese leftist political and human rights activists, said that 18 people were on board and that the cargo included medicine, food, toys and basic humanitarian supplies such as mattresses and blankets.

Among the passengers was 86-year-old Greek Catholic priest Hillarion Capucci, who was serving as an archbishop in Jerusalem in 1974 when Israel convicted him of using his diplomatic status to smuggle arms to Palestinian militants. He was later released from jail at the intervention of the Vatican and deported.

The Free Gaza Movement, which did not organize the Lebanese voyage but has successfully sent several boatloads of activists to Gaza in the past, said one of its British volunteers, Theresa McDermott of Edinburgh, also was on board.

Israel says the blockade of Gaza is a response to repeated Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel and is necessary to keep arms from reaching Hamas. After Israel ended a three-week military offensive in Gaza last month with an informal cease-fire, Hamas has been trying to get the border crossings reopened as part of a long-term cease-fire.

But Egyptian efforts for a formal long-term deal took a downturn today when a senior Hamas official said his delegation was leaving Cairo without an agreement because of differences over opening the border crossings.

Egypt is acting as mediator because Israel and Hamas do not have official contacts.

Hamas officials had said they are ready to commit to a cease-fire with Israel for at least a year in exchange for a full opening of Gaza’s borders.

But Hamas negotiator Mohammed Nasr said Israel was trying to avoid fully reopening the Gaza borders. He said his group would wait for answers after the Egyptians talk to Israel.

The Hamas delegation later was stopped from returning to Gaza with $9 million and 2 million euros in their suitcases, an Egyptian security official said.

The official said the group initially refused to be searched by Egyptian authorities at the Rafah border crossing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The money stayed in Egypt while the delegation was allowed to return to Gaza, said another security official. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Lebanese ship was the latest in a string of vessels that tried to break the Israeli blockade. Israel has permitted several ships to reach Gaza but blocked others, including a Libyan freighter that was forced to turn around last December.

The Israeli military said the Tali’s shipment had not been cleared by Israeli authorities. It said a naval patrol spoke by radio to the Tali and told its skipper the ship would not be allowed to enter Gaza. The two sides agreed that the vessel would instead sail to the Egyptian port of El-Arish.

But this morning, the ship tried to double back and slip past the navy, Israel said, raising concerns that it might be trying to smuggle arms into Gaza.

“As a result of the actions taken by the boat crew, an Israel navy force intercepted, boarded, and took control of the cargo boat, directing it toward (the port) of Ashdod, Israel,” the statement said. “No gunshots were fired on board during the boarding and capturing of the cargo boat.”

Interviewed on Army Radio after the ship was searched, however, a naval officer identified only as Lt.Col.A. said no weapons were found.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said he strongly condemned “the blatant attack” on the ship and held Israel responsible for the safety of the passengers.

“This Israeli aggression is not surprising,” he said. “Israel, which commits massacres against innocent civilians in Lebanon and Gaza, will not stop at committing an aggression in front of the world against a ship carrying humanitarian aid.”

A Syrian Foreign Ministry statement sharply condemned what it called Israel’s act of “maritime piracy.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

Craig Hess (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)
Sultan’s new police chief has 22 years in law enforcement

Craig Hess was sworn in Sep. 14. The Long Island-born cop was a first-responder on 9/11. He also served as Gold Bar police chief.

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Man charged with dealing fentanyl pills that led to Arlington overdose

Prosecutors charged Robin Clariday with controlled substance homicide. He allegedly handed Bradley Herron the pills outside a hotel.

Seattle woman identified in fatal Highway 99 crash

Elena Mroczek, 74, was killed Sunday in a crash involving a 19-year-old.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Rival gang members charged with killing Everett boy, 15, at bus stop

The two suspects are accused of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Witnesses contradict gunman’s account of killing Monroe prison officer

Dylan Picard, 22, was driving on South Machias Road when Dan Spaeth approached his car to slow it down to avoid hitting a deer.

The Safe Sleep Cheat Sheet shows what's safe for infants and what should be avoided. Photo provided by the Snohomish County Health Department.
Infants’ deaths from unsafe sleeping far outpace other accidents

Nineteen infants died in two years in Snohomish County, when zero died from drownings or car crashes. Officials sounded the alarm this week.