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THE ban on vessels destined for Gaza continues to be in force, Cypriot authorities said yesterday in response to reports that a ship is getting ready to sail to the strip from Lebanon via Cyprus.

“After this intention was made public we contacted the foreign ministry and we were assured that the ban on vessels coming and going to Cyprus, having Gaza as their final destination is still in force,” police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said.

The spokesman said the police will act as it did in May, when the Free Gaza flotilla attempted to break Israel’s blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Cypriot authorities also forbade any small vessels from leaving the island with a view to joining the flotilla.

That attempt ended in the killing of nine Turkish nationals when Israeli commandos boarded the ships in international waters to stop them from approaching Gaza.

“Our position is clear, we have repeatedly explained it and irrespective of the unfortunate dramatic developments last month, our position remains the same because it is based on objective criteria – the main criterion being the interests of the Republic of Cyprus,” Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou said.

It was reported out of Lebanon that another blockade-busting ship with all-female activists and aid on board could be bound for Gaza within a few days, after Lebanese authorities granted permission Monday for it to sail to Cyprus first.

The Associated Press reported that organisers said the ship plans to sail from Lebanon in the next few days but did not give an exact date.

“We have been granted permission to go to Cyprus and we are now in the process of making final preparations,” said Yasser Kashlak, a Syrian of Palestinian origin who heads the Free Palestine Movement group, which is organising the ship.

Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said the ship named ‘Julia’ was docked at the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli and can set sail once it is cleared by port authorities there.

He said the ship would be allowed to sail to Cyprus and not directly to Gaza because Lebanon and Israel are technically in a state of war and Lebanon views Gaza as Israeli controlled, the Associated Press reported.

Israel imposed the blockade of Gaza three years ago after militant group Hamas militants overran the territory.CM

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