Israeli Navy Set to Board New Gaza FlotillaWorld | November 4, 2011, Friday // 16:21| views
People watch a large ship, the Mavi Marmara, which was part of the Free Gaza Movement flotilla as it approaches the port of Ashdod with an Israeli navy escort on 31 May 2010. EPA/BGNES
Two foreign aid ships approaching the blockaded Gaza Strip have been contacted by radio by the Israeli Navy, which led the pro-Palestinian activists on board to expect the vessels to be boarded.
The Irish Saoirse (Gaelic for Freedom) and the Canadian Tahrir (Arabic for Liberation) began the final stage of their voyage to Gaza; they were contacted by the Israeli navy just before 1:00pm (1100 GMT) at some 50 nautical miles from the shore, organizers said, cited by international media.
The foreign aid ships approaching Gaza have led many to fear a repeat of the May-June 2010 crisis in which Israeli commandos killed several Turkish citizens after storming the nine-ship aid flotilla; the Israelis suspected it might have been bringing embargoed items.
The Irish boat is carrying 15 passengers and crew members, while the Canadian boat has 12 people on board, five of them journalists, and is carrying some USD 30 000 worth of medical aid and letters of solidarity, organizers said.
"At 10.58 am (Irish time) we received an urgent call from Dr Fintan Lane, National Coordinator of Irish Ship to Gaza aboard the MV Saoirse, to say that two Israeli ships are rapidly approaching the Irish and Canadian boats," organizers of the Irish boat said in a statement.
The first radio contact was made some 15 minutes later, when the two vessels were 48 nautical miles from the shore, it said.
Shortly afterwards, the Canadians also confirmed radio contact had been made, in a posting on Twitter.
"Israeli war ship: 'What is Tahrir's final destination?' Our response: 'The betterment of mankind'," they wrote.
The Israeli military confirmed they had made radio contact with both vessels, telling them they were about to enter an area "under a maritime security blockade."
"The Israel navy advised the vessels that they may turn back at any point, thereby not breaking the maritime security blockade, or sailing to a port in Egypt or the port of Ashdod" in southern Israel, a statement said.
"The activists refused to cooperate," it added.
Shortly afterwards, organisers of the Canadian boat said they had lost contact with the Tahrir. "Communications may have been jammed by Israeli military," they tweeted.
The last time a boat tried to reach Gaza was in July when a French-flagged yacht, the last remaining boat of an earlier flotilla, was intercepted by the Israeli navy some 40 nautical miles off the coast.
Activists organised a major attempt to break the Israeli blockade in May 2010, when six ships led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara tried to reach Gaza.
Israeli troops stormed the Marmara, killing nine Turkish activists and sparked a diplomatic crisis with Ankara, which expelled the Israeli ambassador and has cut military ties with the Jewish state.
Earlier this year, a second flotilla tried to reach Gaza, but several ships were sabotaged - which activists blamed on Israel. Only the French-flagged yacht, the Dignity, was able to attempt the last leg of the journey but was stopped by the navy and those on board were deported.
Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.
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