BEIRUT Lebanon said on Monday it would allow a Gaza-bound aid ship to sail despite warnings from Israel that it reserved the right to use all necessary means to stop ships that try to sail from Lebanon to Gaza.
Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said he had granted permission for the ship, by the name of Julia, to sail to Cyprus, saying that a state of war between Lebanon and Israel prevented the boat from heading directly to Gaza.
"Lebanon and Israel are in a state of war and no ship has ever sailed from Lebanon to Israel," Aridi told Reuters. "Now what the Cypriots will decide, I don't know. Cyprus may not allow them to sail to Gaza," Aridi said.
In a letter to the U.N. Secretary General and the Security Council, the Israeli ambassador said it appeared a small number of ships planned to sail from Lebanon and that while Organizers said they wished to take aid to Gaza, "the true nature of their actions remains dubious."
The ambassador said there was a "possible link" to Lebanese Shi'ite guerrilla group Hezbollah, whose leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah had called on Lebanese citizens to launch flotillas.
Israel fought a war in 2006 against Hezbollah, the Shi'ite militant group which forced Israel to withdraw in 2000 from land it occupied in southern Lebanon. The 2006 war began when Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers from the border area.
The group, formed with financial backing from Iran in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, has become the most powerful military force in Lebanon and one of Israel's deadliest adversaries in the region.
Before the ambassador's letter was released, Hezbollah said in a statement that while it supported such flotillas, it had "decided from the beginning to stay away from this humanitarian movement either from the coordination, logistical support or participation side."
Israel announced on Sunday new steps to ease a land blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, after an international outcry over an Israeli commando raid on an aid flotilla that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists.
The Israeli blockade was conceived more than three years ago as a way suffocating popular support for Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel and which seized control of Gaza in 2007.
Aridi earlier said the ship, now docked in the northern port city of Tripoli, was registered in Paris and there were Lebanese and foreign nationals on it.
Julia's spokesman, Tha'er Ghandour, said the ship would sail within days but would not give a date due to security concerns, adding the boat was carrying cement, medical supplies and toys.
(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)