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Israel warns new ships heading for Gaza

UNITED NATIONS - The Associated Press | 7/23/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Israel has urged Lebanon and the international community to prevent two ships from sailing to Gaza from a Lebanese port to break Israel's blockade on the territory.

Israel has urged Lebanon and the international community to prevent two ships from sailing to Gaza from a Lebanese port to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, warning the vessels would be stopped.

Israel's United Nations Ambassador Gabriela Shalev accused organizers of the aid ships Junia and Julia of seeking "to incite a confrontation and raise tensions in our region."

A deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship trying to bring aid to Gaza on May 31 killed eight Turkish and one U.S. citizen of Turkish descent, focusing international attention on Israel's blockade of Gaza, which was imposed after Hamas took control of the Palestinian territory in June 2007.

In letters to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, Shalev said, "Israel reserves its right under international law to use all necessary means to prevent these ships from violating the ... naval blockade."

[HH] State of hostility

She called on Lebanon's government "to demonstrate responsibility" and prevent the two ships, Junia and Julia, from departing. Israel and Lebanon remain "in a state of hostility," Shalev said, and "such action will prevent any escalation."

"Israel further calls upon the international community to exercise its influence in order to prevent these boats from departing and to discourage their nationals from taking part in such action," she said.

Shalev said it could not be ruled out that the Junia and Julia are carrying weapons "or individuals with provocative and confrontational intentions."

The killing of the nine activists on May 31 put Israel under growing pressure to open Gaza's borders. Under the old blockade rules, only basic food and medicine were allowed into Gaza; in a first step after the flotilla raid, Israel decided to let in most consumer goods but said Gazans would continue to be banned from travel and exporting goods for the time being.

Egypt also decided to ease its closure of Gaza after the flotilla raid, opening its borders to restricted travel and limited humanitarian convoys. The move restored a link to the outside world for at least some of Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians.

Shalev said, “All goods that are not weapons or material for war-like purposes are now entering the Gaza Strip through appropriate mechanisms that ensure their delivery as well as their civilian nature."

She said the organizers of the Junia and Julia are aware of these channels to deliver aid to Gaza but "similar to previous attempts by others" are seeking confrontation.

In the latest challenge to the blockade, a Libyan aid ship blocked by Israeli missile ships from steaming to Gaza arrived in the Egyptian port of el-Arish on July 14. Its cargo was to be unloaded and handed over to the Red Crescent for delivery to Gaza.

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