Monday, 29 June 2015

Israel seizes flotilla seeking to break Gaza blockade


JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel's navy boarded and took over an activist vessel seeking to break its Gaza blockade and was escorting it to port on Monday in an operation that did not use force, the military said.

A flotilla of four boats carrying pro-Palestinian activists had been seeking to reach Gaza to highlight the Israeli blockade of the territory, with the attempt coming five years after a similar bid ended in a deadly raid.

Three of the boats were said to have turned back while a fourth, the Marianne of Gothenburg, was boarded by the Israeli navy and was being escorted to an Israeli port.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded the operation insisting his government was right to take action against Hamas, the group that rules Gaza.

"In accordance with international law, the Israeli navy advised the vessel several times to change course," the military said in a statement.

"Following their refusal the navy visited and searched the vessel in international waters in order to prevent their intended breach of the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"The forces have reported that use of force was unnecessary, and that the process was uneventful," it added. "The vessel is currently being escorted to Ashdod port and is expected to arrive within 12-24 hours."

A military spokeswoman confirmed to AFP that the vessel was the Swedish-flagged Marianne of Gothenburg, part of the so-called Freedom Flotilla III.

Among the passengers on the four vessels were Palestinian Knesset member Basel Ghattas, Tunisia's former president Moncef Marzouki and at least one European lawmaker.

A statement Friday from the flotilla's media team said its goal was "to highlight the violation of the rights of 1.8 million Palestinians living in the world's largest open-air prison. more

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