Israeli Navy Snatches New Gaza FlotillaWorld | November 4, 2011, Friday // 18:05| views
The Israeli navy on Friday intercepted two international ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists who were trying to break the blockade on Gaza, a military statement said. EPA/BGNES
The Israeli Navy has boarded the two protest boats trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip on Friday and towed them to an Israeli port just north of the Palestinian territory, officials said.
The Israeli military said in a statement cited by international media that forces boarded the boats after repeated calls for them to turn around were ignored. The boarding was done peacefully and nobody was hurt, the military said.
Two foreign aid ships approaching the blockaded Gaza Strip had 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.
Earlier on Friday, the Tahrir, one of two vessels that have sailed across the east Mediterranean in an attempt to break Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, ceased transmitting messages at about 3 p.m. local time when the boat was believed to be less than 80 km from its destination.
"We have lost contact with the Tahrir and the [Irish vessel] Saoirse and are hoping for the best," said Canadian Boat to Gaza organizer Dylan Penner, cited by The Globe and Mail "Several regularly scheduled check-ins have not happened, and we have been unable to reach those aboard."
The Israeli military released a short video showing a naval officer calling on the two vessels to turn around. "The Gaza area and coastal region are closed to maritime traffic as part of a blockade imposed for security purposes," the officer said.
"Your attempt to enter the Gaza Strip by sea is a violation of international law," he said. "We remind you that humanitarian supplies can be delivered to the Gaza Strip by land, and you are welcome to enter Ashdod port and deliver supplies through land crossings."
David Heap, a Canadian organizer on board the Tahrir, said before contact was lost that the effort to reach Gaza had gotten closer to the destination than any of the previous three flotillas. "We are closer to Gaza this time, and hope to get there next time," he said.
The Saoirse (Gaelic for Freedom) is carrying 15 passengers and crew, and the Tahrir (Arabic for Liberation) has 12 people on board as well as USD 30,000 worth of medical supplies and letters of solidarity, organizers say.
Last year, nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when they resisted an Israeli operation to halt a similar flotilla. Each side blamed the other for the violence.
The incident sparked an international outcry and forced Israel to ease its land blockade on Gaza, which was imposed in 2006 and tightened, with Egyptian co-operation, after Hamas seized control of the territory the following year.
Militants in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the past decade, and now have much of southern Israel in range.
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