Group ac­cuses Is­raeli navy of piracy

Or­ga­niz­ers of flotilla bound for Gaza Strip say the in­ter­cep­tion vi­o­lated mar­itime law.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Bat­sheva So­bel­man So­bel­man is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

JERUSALEM — Or­ga­niz­ers of a Gaza Strip- bound f lotilla that was in­ter­cepted by the Is­raeli navy com­plained Mon­day that they were vic­tims of an act of piracy, while Is­raeli of­fi­cials de­nounced the pro- Pales­tinian cam­paign as hyp­o­crit­i­cal and un­nec­es­sary.

The Marianne of Gothen­burg, a Swedish f ish­ing trawler lead­ing the small f lotilla protest­ing Is­rael’s naval block­ade of the Pales­tinian coastal en­clave, was in­ter­cepted early Mon­day by Is­raeli naval com­man­dos 115 miles from Gaza. No force was used, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from Is­rael’s mil­i­tary.

Or­ga­niz­ers of the Free­dom Flotilla III ex­pressed con­cern for the pas­sen­gers, who in­cluded for­mer Tu­nisian Pres­i­dent Mon­cef Mar­zouki, and charged that the in­ter­cep­tion in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters was a vi­o­la­tion of mar­itime law.

“Is­rael’s re­peated acts of state piracy in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters are wor­ry­ing signs that the oc­cu­pa­tion and block­ade pol­icy ex­tends to the en­tire eastern Mediter­ranean,” the ac­tivist group said in a state­ment on its web­site.

It added that Is­rael was pur­su­ing an “ab­so­lutely fruit­less pol­icy” in Gaza.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu praised the navy for a swift in­ter­cep­tion and had harsh words for the ac­tivists. “This en­tire f lotilla is hyp­o­crit­i­cal,” he said be­fore a meet­ing with par­lia­ment’s For­eign Af­fairs and De­fense Com­mit­tee.

“There is no need for these small boats to de­liver con­sumer goods or hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to Gaza,” Ne­tanyahu said, adding that Is­rael has de­liv­ered more aid to Gaza than any other coun­try over the last year — more than 1.6 mil­lion tons of goods. He in­vited ac­tivists in­ter­ested in de­liv­er­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian goods to Gaza to do so through Is­rael, which he said would screen goods for weapons.

Af­ter fol­low­ing the Marianne of Gothen­burg from a dis­tance over the week­end, Is­rael’s navy con­tacted the boat and ad­vised it to change course to avoid breach­ing the naval block­ade, of­fi­cials said. The boat did not com­ply, was boarded by naval com­man­dos and then es­corted to the Is­raeli port of Ash­dod, where it is due to ar­rive by Tues­day, they said.

The for­eign na­tion­als on board, nearly all of the 18 pas­sen­gers, will be ques­tioned by Is­raeli author­i­ties and most likely de­ported through Ben Gu­rion Air­port in an ex­pe­dited process, of­fi­cials said.

There has been no word from the pas­sen­gers or crew since the in­ter­cep­tion, a spokes­woman for the ac­tivists, Ann Ighe, said from Swe­den. Or­ga­niz­ers in Swe­den were speak­ing to the ac­tivists on the boat just be­fore it was boarded, she said.

Ighe voiced con­cern for the pas­sen­gers. “Even if the [ navy] states the hi­jack­ing was un­event­ful, this doesn’t mean the pas­sen­gers are be­ing treated well,” she said, adding that in the past ac­tivists had been shocked by stun guns or oth­er­wise mis­treated.

Ten ac­tivists were killed in 2010 when a Turk­ish ship was in­ter­cepted by the Is­raeli navy en route to Gaza.

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