Is­rael stops flotilla seek­ing to break Gaza block­ade

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY DELPHINE MATTHIEUSSENT

Is­rael’s navy on Mon­day halted a flotilla seek­ing to defy its block­ade of Gaza with­out the deadly force that marred a sim­i­lar at­tempt in 2010 and was es­cort­ing one of the ves­sels to shore.

Among the pas­sen­gers on the com­man­deered ship were Tu­nisia’s for­mer pres­i­dent Mon­cef Mar­zouki and Arab-Is­raeli law­maker Basel Ghat­tas.

A flotilla of four boats car­ry­ing pro-Pales­tinian ac­tivists had been seek­ing to reach Gaza to high­light the Is­raeli block­ade of the ter­ri­tory that they called “in­hu­mane and illegal.”

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 the Is­raeli port of Ash­dod.

The ac­tivists’ cam­paign came as Is­rael faced heavy in­ter­na­tional pres­sure over its ac­tions in Gaza, with a U.N. re­port last week say­ing both the Jewish state and Pales­tinian mil­i­tants may have com­mit­ted war crimes dur­ing a 50-day con­flict in the be­sieged coastal en­clave last sum­mer.

The re­con­struc­tion of thou­sands of homes in Gaza de­stroyed dur­ing the fight­ing be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas, the ter­ri­tory’s Is­lamist de facto rulers, is yet to be­gin, and both Is­rael’s block­ade and a lack of sup­port from in­ter­na­tional donors have been blamed.

Af­ter the overnight op­er­a­tion to stop the flotilla, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu lauded the navy’s ac­tions and in­sisted his gov­ern­ment was right to take ac­tion against Ha­mas.

“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 ves- sel 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.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the flotilla said the ves­sel was a fish­ing trawler car­ry­ing med­i­cal equip­ment and so­lar pan­els with 18 peo­ple from nine coun­tries on board.

The Free­dom Flotilla Coali­tion ques­tioned Is­rael’s ver­sion of the op­er­a­tion and said on its web­site that it had “no rea­son to be­lieve that Marianne’s cap­ture

was ‘ un­event­ful.’”

‘Crime of the block­ade’

Ha­mas, in a state­ment as well as in com­ments on Twit­ter, con­demned the “kid­nap­ping” of the ac­tivists, adding that “this ship suc­ceeded in show­ing the crime of the block­ade.”

The other three ships had changed their course and were “head­ing back to their ports of ori­gin,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by “Cana­dian Boat to Gaza” is­sued by the ac­tivists be­fore the Is­raeli navy com­man­deered the Marianne.

Ne­tanyahu dis­missed the or­ga­niz­ers’ goals.

“This flotilla is noth­ing but a demon­stra­tion of hypocrisy and lies that is only as­sist­ing the Ha­mas ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and ig­nores all of the hor­rors in our re­gion,” he said in a state­ment.

Ne­tanyahu said the block­ade was nec­es­sary to stop weapons from ar­riv­ing in the Gaza Strip by sea and that the op­er­a­tion “was done in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional law.”

A spokes­woman for Is­rael’s immigration au­thor­ity told AFP the for­eign ac­tivists would be granted a hear­ing be­fore be­ing de­ported, as was the case with Gaza-bound boats in­ter­cepted by Is­rael in 2012.

Ghat­tas was ex­pected to face a hear­ing in a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on whether he should face sanc­tions.

Crit­ics of the block­ade have called for it to be fully lifted to al­low re­con­struc­tion, warn­ing that with­out it an on­go­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis could fuel fur­ther con­flict.

Some “1.8 mil­lion Pales­tini­ans (are) liv­ing in dis­grace­ful, prison-like con­di­tions as a re­sult of Is­rael’s mil­i­tary siege of both sea and land,” law­maker Ghat­tas said in a let­ter to Ne­tanyahu be­fore the flotilla set sail.

AP

In this un­dated photo re­leased by Ship to Gaza-Swe­den, a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion shows crew mem­bers aboard the Marianne ship, one of four ships at­tempt­ing to breach a naval block­ade of Gaza, car­ry­ing about 20 ac­tivists, in­clud­ing Is­raeli Arab law­maker Basel Ghat­tas and for­mer Tu­nisian Pres­i­dent Mon­cef Mar­zouki.

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