The Israeli navy has intercepted a boat carrying 13 women activists bound for Gaza in an attempt to break the years-long blockade clamped by Israel. Irish Nobel peace prize laureate Mairead Maguire was among the activists.
Though the Israeli forces have said the Zaytouna-Olivia sailboat was intercepted without any incident, a website operated by the so-called Women's Boat to Gaza said the activists' ferry was "attacked" by the navy. On board the vessel were also an Olympic athlete and former American army personnel and several parliamentarians. The Women's Boat to Gaza is part of the pro-Palestine Freedom Flotilla Coalition, which repeatedly attempts to break the blockade.
While the Dutch-registered boat has been taken to the Israeli port city of Ashdod, the women were transferred by Israeli authorities "for further processing", said the Israeli military. The boat, originating from Barcelona in September, was sailing towards the Hamas-controlled Gaza in the Mediterranean. It was intercepted in international waters after spending eight days at sea.
A statement from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said: "In accordance with government directives and after exhausting all diplomatic channels, the Israeli navy redirected the vessel in order to prevent breach of the lawful maritime blockade."
The interception took place on the same day, (Wednesday, 5 October), when the IDF hit several positions in Gaza after a rocket was fired from the region. Local reports suggest women troops were deployed in order to reduce frictions while handling the activists.
The IDF statement added: "In accordance with international law, the Israeli navy advised the vessel numerous times to change course prior to the action. Following their refusal, the navy visited and searched the vessel in international waters in order to prevent their intended breach of the lawful maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. The visit and search of the vessel was uneventful."
Though such protest flotillas have been regular events, their numbers have drastically dwindled after 10 Turks were killed in 2010 in a deadly showdown between Israeli commandos and mostly Turkish activists. Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, issued a strong statement calling for the immediate release of the passengers. It said: "The Palestinian cause for freedom and independence is a universal quest for justice embraced by millions worldwide. The flotilla is a humble yet significant reminder that it is time to turn statements into concrete actions."