troops board boat carrying 20 people from eight countries,
carrying items like medicines, cement, basketballs and musical
October 20, 2012 -- Israeli troops on Saturday boarded a
boat carrying pro-Palestinian MPs and activists seeking to run
its naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, blocking the latest
attempt to reach the enclave by sea, the military said.
The operation, which the military said was concluded peacefully,
ended the latest bid by activists to breach Israel's tight
maritime embargo on Gaza which prohibits all naval traffic in
and out of the Palestinian coastal territory.
"A short while ago, Israeli navy soldiers boarded (the MV)
Estelle, a vessel which was en route to the Gaza Strip,
attempting to break the maritime security blockade," the
military said in a statement, indicating the Finnish-flagged
vessel was being led to Ashdod port in southern Israel.
"There was no violence," a military spokeswoman told AFP, saying
troops had taken control of the 53-metre (174-foot) vessel. "The
passengers did not resist."
On board the ship are 17 passengers, among them five
parliamentarians from Europe and a former Canadian lawmaker,
It was also carrying a shipment of humanitarian aid and 30
doves, which the passengers had been intending to release on
arrival in Gaza.
The announcement came shortly after organisers told AFP that the
ship had "come under attack" after being approached by navy
vessels some 38 nautical miles off the Gaza coast.
The military said the boarding was carried out only after
"numerous calls to the passengers onboard" which went
"As a result of their unwillingness to cooperate and after
ignoring calls to change course, the decision was made to board
the vessel and lead it to the port of Ashdod," the military
said, indicating that troops "did not need to use force."
On arrival at Ashdod, the ship's passengers would be handed into
police custody and then onto the immigration authorities.
Activists on previous Gaza-bound flotillas which were stopped by
the navy have all been taken to Israel and immediately deported.
The vessel had set sail from Sweden several weeks ago, stopping
off in Finland, France and Spain before leaving the Italian port
of Naples on October 6.
"The Estelle is now under attack -- I have just had a message
from them by phone," Victoria Strand, a Stockholm-based
spokeswoman for the Ship to Gaza-Sweden campaign told AFP at
Among those on board are parliamentarians Ricardo Sixto Iglesias
from Spain, Sven Britton from Sweden, Aksel Hagen of Norway, and
Vangelis Diamandopoulos and Dimitris Kodelas, both from Greece.
Former Canadian lawmaker Jim Manly is also on board.
Strand said the Estelle, which has previously been used in
Greenpeace missions, had been expected to dock in Gaza late
Activists organised a major attempt to break the Israeli
blockade in May 2010, when six ships led by the Turkish-owned
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.
Since then, there have been several other attempts to reach Gaza
by boat, all of which have been stopped by the Israeli navy,
although there has been no repeat of the bloodshed.
In July 2011, another flotilla tried to set sail for Gaza from
Athens but several of the boats were unable to sail due to what
organisers said was sabotage, while others were banned from
leaving by the Greek authorities.
Another attempt in November saw an Irish and a Canadian ship
blocked from reaching the Palestinian territory.
Last year, 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.
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