Libyan-Gaza-Israel Amalthea aid ship standoff as it happened

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Amalthea, a ship chartered by the Libyan Gaddafi Foundation to deliver food and medicine to the Palestinian people who have been under Israeli naval blockade for 3 years, Thursday began unloading its cargo in the Egyptian port of Al-Arish. Originally scheduled to sail to Gaza, Amalthea made a last minute about-turn for Egypt. Disappointed, pro-Palestinian activists who boarded Amalthea — six Libyans, an Algerian, a Moroccan and a Nigerian — have refused to support the delivery of aid to Gaza by land. Discover Amalthea’s stormy saga.

The Amalthea finally backtracked. The vessel, chartered by the Gaddafi Foundation, a Libyan charity organization, Thursday began unloading its cargo in the port of Al-Arish in Egypt. After a five-day journey and a two-day standoff, the ship finally decided to abandon its plan to ignore the Israeli blockade on Gaza. After making a u-turn, the vessel finally docked at the Egyptian port on Wednesday night. Israel’s intense diplomatic efforts seem to have paid off. Right until the end of the ship’s journey, Israeli and Libyan authorities embarked on a real psychological warfare — making contradictory and accusatory statements, while mutually denying each other’s statement. A chronology of events.

Saturday, July 10. Amalthea, a Moldova-flagged cargo ship sails from the port of Lavrio, 60 km east of Athens. On board are 21 people: 12 crew members, eight pro-Palestinian activists and a journalist. The ship is loaded with two tons of humanitarian aid: food and medicine. The Gaddafi Foundation, whose president is none other than Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, chartered the ship. The foundation’s goal is to sail to Gaza. Israel, whose image was tarnished by the deadly flotilla attack on May 31, deploys intense diplomatic efforts to dissuade the cargo ship from reaching Gaza without resorting to military force. Greek and Moldovan authorities confirm that they have received assurances that the Libyan cargo ship of its intention to change its route to the port of Al-Arish in Egypt. “The ship’s destination (…) points to the Egyptian port of Al-Arish,” the ship’s agent says at the end of the afternoon. But the agent’s assurances seem to contradict the views of the humanitarian activists on board the freighter. And later that evening, the executive director of the Gaddafi Foundation, Yusef Sawan, insists from Athens that “the ship is on its way to Gaza as planned” …


Sunday, July 11. “We are heading for Gaza. We will not change direction,” Machallah Zwei, a representative of the Gaddafi Foundation aboard Amalthea, tells AFP. A spokesman for the Israeli army had said earlier during the day that their Navy was on the lookout. At midday, the ship is spotted near the Greek island of Crete, that is, two days away from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli authorities want this timely opportunity to negotiate in order to avoid another international fiasco. “We recommend that the organizers either let the ship be escorted by navy vessels to Ashdod port [Israel] or that is sails directly to the port of El-Arish,” says Israeli minister Yossi Peled, of the Likud party.

Tuesday, July 13. The Gaddafi Foundation maintains its pressure. Yusef Sawan is adamant. “The ship is heading toward Gaza as planned,” the Chief Executive of the organization tells AFP in the evening, saying they have received fresh warnings from the Israeli army. Meanwhile, an Israeli official has announced that the captain of Amalthea has agreed to change the vessel’s course and sail to Al-Arish. An Egyptian official confirms, backing his claims with the vessel’s request for authorization to dock. On the other hand, the Gaddafi Foundation continues to deny any change in plans whilst pointing their finger at the Israeli authorities for issuing an ultimatum for the ship to change its course before midnight Tuesday. “…otherwise they are threatening to intercept the boat with their navy,” worries Machallah Zwei, speaking from the ship via satellite telephone. Relayed by the Qatari-based Al Jazeera new network, the statement from the Gaddafi Foundation representative causes a lot of clamor. A spokesman for the Israeli army is quick to reject the existence of such an ultimatum. The shadow of the deadly flotilla attack against lingers…

Wednesday, July 14. Escorted by eight Israeli zodiacs, Amalthea renounces its intention to continue its Gaza trip and changes course for Al-Arish. The Libyan chartered ship docks at the Egyptian port in the evening with the Gaddafi Foundation claiming victory. Because for Yusef Sawan the Amalthea objective has been achieved without shedding blood. “Out of concern for the security of everybody on board, the foundation decided to head for El-Arish,” he explained.

The Egyptian Red Crescent Society began Thursday to unload 2,000 tons of food and medicines. The aid is expected to be transferred to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing (or the Al-Oja), after it has been checked by the Egyptian security forces.

Disappointed, the pro-Palestinian activists who boarded Amalthea — six Libyans, an Algerian, a Moroccan and a Nigerian — have refused to support the delivery of aid to Gaza by land. Their goal was to reach the Palestinian territory by the sea.

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