The Israel Navy on Friday afternoon intercepted two boats that approached the coast of the Gaza Strip with the intent to violate Israel’s naval blockade of the territory.
After the boats failed to heed calls to turn around or dock in Egypt or Israel, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz ordered naval forces to board the ships. Nobody was injured during the boarding of the ships, a military source said. “The Israel Navy soldiers operated as planned, and took every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of the activists onboard the vessels as well as themselves,” an IDF statement said.
The boats were carrying supplies and 27 international pro-Palestinian activists.
Activists in Gaza and Ramallah said they lost radio contact with the ships shortly after 1 p.m.
The IDF said that the navy had contacted the Gaza-bound ships and informed them that Gaza is under a maritime security blockade. The IDF told the ships they could turn around or dock in the Egypt or at Ashdod, where the goods they were carrying would be transferred to Gaza after being inspected.
The ships did not heed that call and continued towards Gaza.
IDF forces did not expect to face violent resistance from the activists on the ships.
Israel’s navy has intercepted similar protest ships in the past, towing them to Ashdod and detaining participants. Israel says its naval blockade of Gaza is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching militant groups like Hamas, the Iran-backed group that rules the territory. Critics call the blockade collective punishment of Gaza’s residents.
Israel’s government has said the activists can send supplies into Gaza overland.
In May 2010, 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 cooperation, 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.
Speaking after prayers at a Gaza City mosque, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, addressed the passengers aboard the boats, saying, “Your message has been delivered whether you make it or not.”
“The siege is unjust and must end,” Haniyeh said.
For more, go to Haaretz.com