Israel forces Malaysia aid ship to retreat from Gaza coast

Israeli naval forces fired warning shots at a Malaysian aid ship with 12 people, inlcluding two Indians on board as it approached the Gaza Strip on Monday, forcing the vessel to retreat to Egypt.

Last Updated: May 16, 2011, 22:16 PM IST

Jerusalem: Israeli naval forces fired
warning shots at a Malaysian aid ship with 12 people,
inlcluding two Indians on board as it approached the Gaza
Strip on Monday, forcing the vessel to retreat to Egypt,
organisers and the Israeli military said.

"The MV Finch, carrying sewage pipes to Gaza, had
warning shots fired at it by Israeli forces in the Palestinian
security zone this morning at 6:54 am (0354 GMT)," said
Shamsul Azhar from the Perdana Global Peace Foundation.

"The vessel was in the Palestinian security zone,
about 400 metres from the Gaza shoreline, when they were
intercepted by Israeli naval forces," he told AFP, adding it
was now anchored 30 nautical miles away in Egyptian territory.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed that the
vessel, flying a Moldovan flag, had been intercepted as it
sailed from Egypt`s El-Arish port, where it had been docked
for several days.

"A navy patrol boat contacted the vessel, which
claimed to be heading for the Gaza shores. Once it crossed
into Israeli naval territory and didn`t answer calls to turn
back, warning shots were fired in the air and it returned to
El-Arish," she said.

The Perdana Foundation is helmed by former
Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad, an 85-year-old firebrand
who was a strident critic of the West and Israel over the
treatment of Palestinians during his two decades in power.

The organisation was also involved in the first
"Freedom Flotilla," a May 2010 attempt to break the Israeli
blockade on Gaza, which ended in disaster when naval commandos
raided the aid ships, killing nine Turks on board one of the
vessels.

Perdana Foundation officials said the MV Finch left
Greece on May 11, carrying plastic pipes to help restore the
"devastated" sewage system in Gaza.

Alang Bendahara, a Malaysian journalist on board,
told AFP that Israeli naval ships fired a volley of gunfire to
stop the vessel as it approached the shore.

"The Israeli naval vessel fired a warning shot at
us upon approaching and asked us to leave the waters but the
ship`s captain refused and the Israelis fired again, circling
the MV Finch before firing twice more," he said.

"At that point they threatened the ship`s captain
that they would board the vessel and we were forced to turn
back, it was lucky that no one was injured.

Bendahara said Egyptian officials monitoring the
boat had escorted it back to Egyptian waters and then boarded
it to inspect its cargo.

He said there were 12 people on board the vessel --
seven Malaysians, two Irish nationals, two Indians and a
Canadian -- including anti-war activists and journalists.

PTI