Xinhuanet – Oct 20, 2012
The Israeli navy took over a Gaza- bound ship carrying international pro-Palestinian activists Saturday, Israel Radio reported.
The radio quoted an Israeli army spokesperson as saying that the operation to intercept Estelle, the Finnish-flagged Swedish ship, was in accordance with a government decision to prevent the boat from reaching Gaza.
The aim of the ship is to challenge Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled enclave. It carries symbolic humanitarian aid and activists from Europe and Canada, including some parliamentarians.
According to the Israeli radio, the takeover process was peaceful. The Israeli naval forces boarded the ship after its crew refused to turn away from Gaza waters.
Amjad al-Shawa, head of the Palestinian Non-Government Organizations Network (PNGO) who was on constant contact with the activists, said communication with the ship was cut.
The boat set sail from Sweden three months ago, making stops in several European ports to pick up the activists and the aid.
Last week, Israel notified Finland that the boat will be stopped if it tried to enter Gaza’s waters.
In 2008, several international ferries succeeded to dock at Gaza’s fishing harbor, a year after Israel imposed a strict ground and naval blockade in Gaza to isolate Hamas.
But following Israel’s major military offensive here in 2008-09 winter, Israel decided to ban all foreign ships from entering Gaza ‘s waters.
In 2010, Israeli commandos intercepted a Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza and killed nine Pro-Palestinian Turks, tensing diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey. Following the standoff, Israel relaxed the overland closure, but kept the naval blockade tight.
JERUSALEM, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) — Israeli Navy soldiers boarded the Gaza-bound Finnish Estelle ship Saturday morning and were currently leading it to Ashdod port in southern Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman’s office confirmed in a statement issued on its website.
“The Navy’s boarding was carried out in accordance with international law, as the ship attempted to break the maritime security blockade of the Gaza Strip,” said the statement. “The boarding took place only after the Navy had made multiple attempts to dissuade the ship’s passengers from sailing to the Gaza Strip — both via direct contact and through diplomatic channels — but to no avail,” it added. “Despite numerous calls to the passengers onboard, they remained unwilling to cooperate with Israeli authorities,” the statement claimed. Full story