Israeli troops on Saturday boarded a boat carrying pro-Palestinian MPs and activists seeking to run its naval blockade on the Gaza Strip,blocking the latest attempt to reach the enclave by sea,the military said.
The operation,which the military said was concluded peacefully,ended the latest bid by activists to breach Israel’s tight maritime embargo on Gaza which prohibits all naval traffic in and out of the Palestinian coastal territory.
“A short while ago,Israeli navy soldiers boarded (the MV) Estelle,a vessel which was en route to the Gaza Strip,attempting to break the maritime security blockade,” the military said in a statement,indicating the Finnish-flagged vessel was being led to Ashdod port in southern Israel.
“There was no violence,” a military spokeswoman said,saying troops had taken control of the 53-metre vessel. “The passengers did not resist.”
On board the ship are 17 passengers,among them five parliamentarians from Europe and a former Canadian lawmaker,organisers said. It was also carrying a shipment of humanitarian aid and 30 doves,which the passengers had been intending to release on arrival in Gaza.
The announcement came shortly after organisers said that the ship had “come under attack” after being approached by navy vessels some 38 nautical miles off the Gaza coast.
The military said the boarding was carried out only after “numerous calls to the passengers onboard” which went unanswered.
“As a result of their unwillingness to cooperate and after ignoring calls to change course,the decision was made to board the vessel and lead it to the port of Ashdod,” the military said,indicating that troops “did not need to use force.”
On arrival at Ashdod,the ship’s passengers would be handed into police custody and then onto the immigration authorities.
Activists on previous Gaza-bound flotillas which were stopped by the navy have all been taken to Israel and immediately deported.
The vessel had set sail from Sweden several weeks ago,stopping off in Finland,France and Spain before leaving the Italian port of Naples on October 6.