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Middle East

Israel’s navy ‘hijacks’ activist boat trying to break Gaza blockade

The vessel reportedly had 22 people and a cargo of medical supplies on-board

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 9:32am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 9:32am

Israel’s navy on Sunday intercepted a Norwegian-flagged activist boat trying to break its more than decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip, the military and activists said.

“The activity ended without exceptional events,” a military statement said. “At this time the ship is being transferred to the port of Ashdod” along the coast of central Israel.

An activist group affiliated with the boat, the Al-Awda (The Return), said 22 people and a cargo of medical supplies were on-board.

A second boat that is part of the same group, the Swedish-flagged Freedom, is expected to arrive in the same area in the next couple days, according to the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

Four boats left from Scandinavia in mid-May and stopped in some 28 ports along the way, the coalition said. Two boats remained behind after a recent stop in Palermo.

Shortly before the Al-Awda, a fishing boat, was intercepted, the coalition released a statement saying the Israeli navy was issuing warnings to it.

“The Israeli navy claims our ship is breaking international law and threatens that they will use ‘any measures necessary’ to stop us,” it said.

“In fact, the only ‘necessary measures’ would be to end the blockade of Gaza and restore freedom of movement for all Palestinians.”

It said afterwards on Twitter that the boat had been “hijacked by Israeli forces”.

Israel has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2008 and says the blockade is necessary to keep them from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes.

UN officials and rights activists have called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian enclave of two million people run by Islamist movement Hamas.

A 2010 attempt to breach the blockade ended in disaster.

In that incident, Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists when they raided a six-ship flotilla trying to reach the Gaza Strip in defiance of the blockade. Another activist died years later.

The botched raid angered Turkey and saw it cut off ties with Israel until 2016.

Other attempts to run the Israeli blockade included a 2016 women’s boat with 13 passengers, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Their sailing boat was halted by the Israeli navy and taken to Ashdod, about 30km north of Gaza, and the women were detained before being deported.

Sunday’s interception comes with tensions especially high between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Mass protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30.

At least 157 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since then.

One Israeli soldier has been killed in the same time period.

There have been two severe military flare-ups between the two sides in recent weeks as well.