Israel bars foreign activist flotilla from reaching Gaza

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2015 12:00 AM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Monday it had blocked a boat leading a four-vessel protest flotilla of foreign activists from reaching the Gaza Strip and forced it to sail to an Israeli port.

An Israeli military statement said there was no violence in the incident, in which troops boarded the ship in international waters before searching and seizing the vessel.

Activists said the boat had a few dozen journalists and politicians on board, among them a former president of Tunisia and a European Parliament lawmaker, and that it had been headed for Gaza, the blockaded Palestinian territory.

The flotilla was the latest in a series of protest voyages across the Mediterranean against Israel's nine-year blockade of Islamist Hamas-dominated Gaza, a Palestinian territory.

One of those incidents turned deadly in 2010 when 10 Turkish activists were killed aboard a ship commandeered by Israel in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Israeli statement early on Monday said that "after exhausting all diplomatic channels the Israeli government ordered the Israeli Navy to redirect the vessel in order to prevent breach of the naval blockade" of Gaza.

It said troops searched the vessel and then escorted it to Israel's southern port of Ashdod where it was expected to dock by Tuesday, a military official said.

An earlier statement by the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement said the flotilla had been led by a converted fishing trawler called the 'Marianne of Gothenburg', with about 50 activists from 17 countries, including an Israeli Arab lawmaker.

Moncef Marzouki, a former Tunisian president, was among 18 people on board the 'Marianne,' a spokeswoman for the flotilla, Ann Ighe, said. Marzouki, 69, a onetime dissident was elected after a 2011 uprising, leading Tunisia through 2014.

Ana Maria Miranda Paz, a European Parliament member from Spain was also among those on board, Ighe said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said she would have no details to provide about the passengers before the vessel was brought ashore.

Activists said the boats had set sail on June 27 with a cargo of solar panels intended to "help alleviate the serious problem of electricity in Gaza, as well as medical equipment" for the impoverished territory, home to 1.7 million Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement congratulating troops for seizing the ship he said was involved in "a demonstration of hypocrisy" and support for Hamas, and said Israel's actions were in accordance with international law.

(Reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Toby Chopra)