Is­raeli navy takes over ac­tivists’ ship

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Bat­sheva So­bel­man and Rushdi abu Alouf Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dents So­bel­man and Abu Alouf re­ported from Jerusalem and Gaza City, re­spec­tively.

JERUSALEM — A ship car­ry­ing pro- Pales­tinian ac­tivists protest­ing Is­rael’s sea block­ade of the Gaza Strip was boarded by Is­raeli naval com­man­dos, who took com­mand of the ves­sel.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from Is­rael’s mil­i­tary early Mon­day, the navy con­tacted the boat while it was in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters and ad­vised it sev­eral times to change course to avoid breach­ing the block­ade.

The cap­tain re­fused and Is­rael’s navy boarded the Swedish- reg­is­tered Marianne of Gothen­burg to search it be­fore es­cort­ing it to the port of Ash­dod. Ac­cord­ing to the mil­i­tary, there was no need to use force.

In Ash­dod the ac­tivists will prob­a­bly be de­ported, as Is­raeli of­fi­cials have warned.

The in­ci­dent comes f ive years af­ter the fa­tal in­ter­cep­tion of a Gaza- bound f lotilla.

The new f lotilla of four boats, or­ga­nized by the Free­dom Flotilla III, set to sea from Greece in re­cent days, car­ry­ing 47 pas­sen­gers from 17 coun­tries.

It also car­ried a mes­sage to Is­rael: Lift the block­ade im­posed on the Pales­tinian en­clave af­ter the mil­i­tant move­ment Ha­mas wrested con­trol of Gaza from the more mod­er­ate Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity in 2007.

Ef­forts by in­ter­na­tional ac­tivists to break the block­ade be­gan the fol­low­ing year. Is­rael let the f irst one reach Gaza but sub­se­quent ef­forts were in­ter­cepted by the Is­raeli navy.

In May 2010, 10 ac­tivists were killed when naval com­man­dos in­ter­cept­ing the Turk­ish ship Mavi Mar­mara en­coun­tered re­sis­tance.

On Sun­day, the Marianne was 150 nau­ti­cal miles away from Gaza when Basel Ghat­tas, an Arab Is­raeli law­maker on­board, sent a let­ter to Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu urg­ing him to re­frain from us­ing mil­i­tary force to stop the ship.

“This block­ade is illegal and a col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment con­tra­ven­ing in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law,” he wrote. Ghat­tas said the 20 pas­sen­gers in­cluded for­mer Tu­nisian Pres­i­dent Mon­cef Mar­zouki.

Sev­eral hours later, Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice cir­cu­lated a let­ter that f lotilla ac­tivists would re­ceive upon their ar­rival in Is­rael.

“Welcome to Is­rael!” the let­ter be­gins, tongue- incheek, adding that per­haps par­tic­i­pants in­tended to sail to Syria to protest that gov­ern­ment’s cru­elty but lost their way.

Shortly af­ter 4 a. m. Mon­day, f lotilla or­ga­niz­ers said they lost con­tact with the Marianne when it was about 100 nau­ti­cal miles off Gaza. At least three Is­raeli navy boats were nearby, or­ga­niz­ers said.

Flotilla or­ga­niz­ers also said that three other boats ac­com­pa­ny­ing the Marianne had turned back to their ports of ori­gin with­out ex­plain­ing why and that the Marianne was sail­ing solo to­ward Gaza.

The ac­tivists said they vowed to not use vi­o­lence against Is­raeli forces but to prac­tice “pas­sive re­sis­tance” if their ves­sel was boarded.

A spokesman for the f lotilla, Loukas Stamel­los, said the Marianne, a f ish­ing trawler, was car­ry­ing so­lar pan­els to be do­nated to a hos­pi­tal in Gaza. The mis­sion also planned to do­nate the ship to a Gaza fish­er­men’s as­so­ci­a­tion.

Ne­tanyahu had in­vited the ac­tivists to trans­fer any hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to Gaza through Is­rael. In a sep­a­rate state­ment Mon­day, the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter said the f lotilla was “noth­ing but a demon­stra­tion of hypocrisy and lies … as­sist­ing the Ha­mas ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion” while ig­nor­ing the re­gion’s hor­rors.

Mah­mud Hams AFP/ Getty I mages

PALES­TINI­ANS at the Gaza City seaport hold their f lag to show sup­port for ac­tivists who were chal­leng­ing Is­rael’s block­ade. But an ac­tivist ves­sel was later turned away from Gaza and boarded by Is­raeli com­man­dos.

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