Israel’s defense forces have boarded a ship attempting to break through the Gaza blockade in “a peaceful operation.” The vessel was carrying Palestinian activists, parliamentarians and humanitarian cargo, said a mission spokesperson.
Six Israeli naval boats surrounded the SV Estelle’ 38 nautical miles from Gaza while it was still in international waters.
A spokesperson from the Israeli Department of Defense said that they were forced to intervene after the vessel ignored numerous warnings to change course and cooperate with the Israeli authorities.
"After the passengers ignored calls to change course, the decision was made to board the vessel and lead it to the port of Ashdod,” said the spokesperson, adding that no one was injured when the marines seized control of the ship.
The organizers of the activist mission to Gaza announced over the radio that their vessel had come under attack shortly after it was approached by Israeli ships.
There were about 30 people from eight countries on board, including Israeli citizens, lawmakers from Norway, Sweden, Greece and Spain and a 79-year-old former legislator from Canada.
The activists are being transferred to Ashdod port where they will be handed over to police custody and then on to the immigration authorities. Previously, activists caught trying to break through the blockade have been deported from Israel immediately.
The Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged vessel was reportedly carrying 41 tonnes of cement, books, toys, medical equipment and two olive trees.
A senior Defense Ministry official said that Israel was well within its rights to “operate at sea to prevent the smuggling of arms to terror organizations," reported Ynet. He denounced the activists as "provocateurs who are drive by hatred for Israel" and dismissed the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” maintaining “more than 1,500 trucks carrying tons of goods enter Gaza each week through the land crossings.”
In 2010, Israeli forces boarded a Turkish ship attempting to force its way through the blockade. Soldiers killed nine activists, sparking international outcry and condemnation from the UN for use of “excessive force.”
The UN has called for the six-year blockade on Gaza to be lifted on numerous occasions on the grounds that it represents “a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law.”
Victoria Strand, one of the organizers of the mission, calls the Israeli blockade of Gaza “illegal and unfair.”
“We have to challenge this siege as long as the international community does not do so. WHO, the UN, the EU, everyone is saying that the siege is counterproductive, but nobody is doing anything about it, so we have to take civil action against it,” she told RT.
Strand stressed that Israel needs to realize “the blockade is not helping anyone.”
“It does not help people in Israel, it does not help Palestinians and it has nothing to do with the security of Israel, because weapons are floating in through the tunnels,” she explained, adding that Israel also blockades any export from Gaza, meaning the Palestinians can`t produce anything.