Group accuses Israeli navy of piracy
Organizers of flotilla bound for Gaza Strip say the interception violated maritime law.
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.