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Palestinian Deportees’ Ferry Blasted By Mine in Harbor With AM-Israel, Bjt

February 16, 1988

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ A ferry being readied to carry Palestinian deportees on a PLO-sponsored protest voyage to Israel was damaged by an explosion Monday that was believed set off by a limpet mine.

A man claiming to speak for the Jewish Defense League said the U.S.-based extremist group was responsible for blasting the 6,151-ton Sol Phryne at Limassol, its home port on Cyprus’ southern coast.

A senior PLO official interviewed in Nicosia said: ″It was an underwater blast caused by a mine that was stuck, probably by frogmen, onto the vessel. It was attached to a time fuse.″

Asked what the Palestine Liberation Organization planned to do now, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: ″We are waiting for a decision by the command. We have to see if there is an alternative ship for the voyage.″

″The JDL is responsible for the bombing at Limassol,″ said an anonymous caller. ″This is only a warning. Next time we will bomb it with all the people on it.″

He telephoned his statement to The Associated Press in Nicosia.

He said ″no comment″ when asked if the JDL also was behind the Sunday car-bombing that killed three PLO officials in Limassol.

The three - Mohammed Sultan, Mohammed Buheis and Marwan Kayyali - were involved in negotiations to charter the vessel for the voyage, Cypriot security sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The JDL advocates use of violence in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was founded in the early 1960s by New York-born Meir Kahane, now a member of Israel’s Parliament and head of extremist, anti-Arab Kach Party.

There was no way to verify the caller’s identity.

The head of the Jewish Defense League, Irv Rubin, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Los Angeles: ″Whoever did this righteous action, we don’t know him or her personally ... It’s a great honor they gave us the credit, but it belongs to people much more courageous than the Jewish Defense League.″

A group that belonged to the original JDL, the Jewish Defense Organization, said in a statement issued Monday in New York: ″The JDO claims no direct involvement in this righteous attack, but supports it 100 percent.″

In Athens, Bassam Abu Sharif, the PLO’s chief spokesman who has been overseeing preparations for the much-delayed voyage, insisted the ″Ship of Return″ will sail.

″We are continuing our plans and we will sail, in spite of Israeli terrorists who are using bombs against ideas, noble ideas,″ he said.

Fouad al-Bittar, the PLO diplomatic representative in Athens, said ″the damage (to the 40-year-old ferryboat) is not very severe.″ He said a hole 21 1/2 inches wide was ripped in the hull.

In Algiers, a senior aide to PLO chief Yasser Arafat said the organization will get another craft for the voyage. Salah Khalaf, better known as Abu Iyad, also said ″Zionist terrorism″ disabled the Sol Phryne.

The PLO had tried to launch the voyage from Greece, but it was repeatedly delayed, reportedly under Israeli pressure.

The 130 deportees plus hundreds of international supporters and journalists were taken in buses to Athens airport Monday and were told they would be flown to Cyprus to board the boat.

After news of the blast reached Athens, most returned to their hotels.

Sol Phryne’s captain, Cleanthis Vlahopoulos, said his vessel ″would not be fit to sail for several months.″

The planned voyage carries echoes of the 1947 trip of the Exodus, in which Jewish refugees from Nazi death camps were turned back by British forces as they tried to emigrate to Palestine.

The trip is designed to focus condemnation of Israel’s policy of deporting Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, seized from Jordan and Egypt in 1967.

The deportees included taxi drivers, laborers, a university professo, an Anglican bishop, several mayors and city council members.

The voyage was supposed to end in Haifa, but Israeli officials have said they will refuse to let the vessel enter their waters.

Limassol Port manager John Ghighis told the AP, ″There will be ... an underwater survey to find out exactly what happened, how big a hole there is and what repairs may be necessary.″

Israel radio quoted political sources in Jerusalem as saying the PLO itself set off the explosion because it realized it could not succeed in its mission to reach Israeli shores.