Gaza-bound boat docks at Israeli port after interception

AP News
Posted: Oct 06, 2016 6:53 AM
Gaza-bound boat docks at Israeli port after interception

ASHDOD, Israel (AP) — A boat carrying 13 pro-Palestinian female activists was escorted to shore and docked at an Israeli port on Thursday after being intercepted by the navy while trying to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, the military said.

The military said the women on board, who included a Nobel peace laureate, "were transferred to the appropriate authorities for further processing."

Sabine Haddad, spokeswoman for Israel's Interior Ministry, said 11 of the passengers were being detained for 96 hours and would then be deported.

Haddad said the women were given the option to leave Israel before that time but they refused. The two other women, both journalists, were deported immediately and left Israel Thursday morning.

The boat, docked in the port city of Ashdod, was sponsored by the International Freedom Flotilla Coalition, a collection of pro-Palestinian groups mostly based in Europe.

The coalition has sent several aid boats to Gaza in an effort to draw attention to Israel's blockade of the territory, but last successfully reached the area in 2008.

The Dutch-flagged boat was carrying 13 female activists from different countries, including Mairead Maguire, an Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Organizers said the Israeli navy intercepted the boat about 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the Gaza coast on Wednesday and took over the vessel without any resistance.

In 2010, Israel raided a Turkish-led flotilla bound for Gaza, killing 10 Turks in an incident that sparked a years-long rift with Turkey that is only now being mended.

The boat's arrival coincided with a flare-up of violence along the Gaza border. Gaza militants launched a rocket that slammed into the Israeli city of Sderot, while Israel responded with airstrikes targeting infrastructure belonging to the Islamic militant group Hamas which rules Gaza.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas militant group seized power in 2007. The blockade has stifled Gaza's already weak economy, where unemployment is over 40 percent, and prevented tens of thousands of people from traveling abroad for jobs, studies and other visits overseas.

Israel says the restrictions are needed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons, and says it has eased the blockade to allow more goods into the territory. It considers Hamas, an armed group sworn to Israel's destruction, a terrorist group, and the sides have fought three wars since the Hamas takeover.

Israel has called on groups wanting to deliver aid to Gaza to do so through its official channels rather than trying to breach the blockade. Virtually all supplies to Gaza enter through Israeli-controlled border crossings after undergoing security checks.