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LEBANON, ISRAEL: Politicians trade barbs as activists prepare to set sail for Gaza

June 18, 2010 | 10:02 am

Miriam ship group

Israel's deadly raid on a Turkish aid ship heading to the Gaza Strip may have sparked outrage from the international community and soured relations with Ankara, but what happened aboard the Mavi Marmara might pale compared to what could happen if a confrontation occurs aboard a ship sailing from Lebanon.

Unlike Turkey, Lebanon and Israel are technically at war, although the border has been relatively quiet since the 2006 July War between Israel and the militant Shiite group Hezbollah.

Since that time, Israeli politicians have repeatedly warned that in the next round, the Lebanese government will be held responsible, leaving all of Lebanon open to attack.

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak echoed that language this week when he warned the Lebanese government that it would be held responsible for all ships leaving Lebanese ports following reports of a group of women activists planning to set sail from Lebanon for Gaza.

"The Lebanese government ... is responsible for preventing the loading of weapons, ammunition, explosive materials and other things of that nature which could lead to a violent and dangerous confrontation if the ship refuses to come to [the Israeli port of] Ashdod," Barak said.

Some 30 Lebanese women activists and 20 Europeans have announced their intention to set sail aboard the Mariam, named after the Virgin Mary, carrying medical supplies in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

"Our only weapons are faith in the Virgin Mary and in humanity," a spokesperson for the group, comprised of Muslim and Christian women, told Agence France-Presse

The Virgin Mary is a revered figure in Catholicism, Christianity and Islam, which recognizes Jesus as a prophet.

Lebanese Prime Minister responded to Barak's warning, telling reporters that "the Israeli government continues to threaten Lebanon."

"Will the Israeli defense minister attack Europe or other countries sending aid to Gaza?" he added.

Although the activists of the Mariam have said they are not affiliated with any political organization in Lebanon, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Liwaa reported Friday that some Lebanese politicians had asked Hezbollah "not to give Israel a pretext to attack" the aid ship, suggesting just how volatile the current climate is.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Women activists gather to pray at a shrine for the Virgin Mary as they prepare to set sail for Gaza. Credit: AFP