Israel navy intercepts flotilla ships off Gaza coast
Jerusalem: The Israeli navy on Friday boarded two
international ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists who
were trying to break the blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip,
a military statement said.
The Irish-flagged Saoirse ("Freedom") and the Canadian
ship Tahrir (Arabic for "Liberation") were intercepted by
naval commandos in international waters off the Gaza coast,
ending the latest attempt to reach the coastal enclave.
An Israeli security source said there were "no injuries"
during the boarding process which occurred just minutes before
the start of the Jewish sabbath.
"A short while ago, Israel navy soldiers boarded the
vessels which were en route to the Gaza Strip, attempting to
break the maritime security blockade that is in place in
accordance with international law," the statement said.
The move came after the two ships refused to heed calls to
change course, prompting military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz
to order their interception.
The Irish boat is carrying 15 passengers and crew members.
The Canadian boat has 12 people on board, five of them
journalists, and has a cargo of USD 30,000 worth of medical
aid and letters of solidarity, organisers said.
Activists organised a major attempt to break the Israeli
blockade in May 2010, when six ships led by the Turkish Mavi
Marmara tried to reach Gaza.
Israeli troops stormed the Marmara, killing nine Turkish
activists and sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara, which
expelled the Israeli ambassador and has cut military ties with
the Jewish state.
Earlier this year, a second flotilla tried to reach Gaza,
but several ships were sabotaged -- which activists blamed on
Israel. Only the French-flagged yacht, the Dignity, was able
to attempt the last leg of the journey but was stopped by the
navy and those on board were deported.
Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons
from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the
Islamist Hamas movement.
Two months ago, a UN report on the flotilla raid accused
the Jewish state of acting with "excessive force" but found
that its naval blockade on the coastal territory was legal.