Israel navy boards protest boats


Israeli forces have boarded two protest boats - including the Irish MV Saoirse - that were trying to break its naval blockade of Gaza, the military said.

The military said in a statement that the Irish MV Saoirse and Canadian-registered Tahrir, which had 27 people on board between them, were being taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The boats were “attempting to break the maritime security blockade that is in place in accordance with international law”. The military said the takeover was peaceful and there were no injuries.

The navy began monitoring the ships as they left the Turkish port of Fethiye on Wednesday after Turkish authorities gave them permission to sail to the Greek island of Rhodes. Israeli navy ships carrying members of the elite Shayetet 13, Israel’s navy seals, left port yesterday to intercept the two boats.

The Israeli military said the boats were in international waters when they were stopped, between 60km and 90km from the Gaza coast.

The Irish Ship to Gaza Campaign said they had received a message from the Tahrir that it was about to be boarded  at 1.58pm. The group has called on the Irish Government to issue an urgent statement to the Israeli government warning against any harm to the passengers aboard the MV Saoirse.

The Israeli military issued a short video clip showing a naval official calling on the ships to turn around. “The Gaza area and coastal region are closed to maritime traffic as part of a blockade imposed for security purposes,” the unnamed officer said.“Your attempt to enter the Gaza Strip by sea is a violation of international law. We remind you that humanitarian supplies can be delivered to the Gaza Strip by land, and you are welcome to enter (Israel’s) Ashdod port and deliver supplies through land crossings.”

A spokesman for the Israel Embassy in Dublin said the Gaza-bound mission was a “provocative publicity stunt that serves no practical purpose”.

"Israel’s arms blockade of Gaza is perfectly legal and in accordance with international law. This has most recently been confirmed by the Palmer Committee appointed by the UN to examine the matter,” he said, adding  that there was “no ‘humanitarian crisis’ in Gaza. "All goods are permitted into Gaza except those materials which have military potential.”

In May 2010, Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish Mavi Marmara aid vessel to enforce the naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave, and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists, some of whom were armed with clubs and knives. Israel spurned Ankara's demand for an apology over the incident. Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador two months ago.

“If Israel has yet again illegally boarded peaceful boats sailing to Gaza through international waters, then it means that it believes it can still act with impunity despite worldwide condemnation of its attack on the flotilla of 2010.,” said Irish Ship to Gaza spokeswoman Claudia Saba. “We are deeply concerned for all passengers and crew aboard the two boats, given the Israeli military’s disregard for human life.”

The 14 Irish citizens on board the MV Saoirse include Fintan Lane, former Leinster and Ireland rugby player Trevor Hogan, Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy, former Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews, Siptu official Mags O’Brien, artist Felim Egan, People Before Profit councillor in Dún Laoghaire Hugh Lewis, Sinn Féin councillors Pat Fitzgerald and John Hearne, both from Waterford City Council, and Zoe Lawlor, who teaches at the University of Limerick and is a member of the national committee of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Activists stressed that there were no weapons on board and the aim of the mission was to deliver $30,000 worth of mostly medical aid to the residents of Gaza, highlighting Israel’s illegal blockade.

Organisers rejected Israel’s offer to transfer the humanitarian aid overland to Gaza, via Ashdod. They said the new attempt to break the Gaza siege was part of a campaign called “freedom waves”, implying that more boats would be organised when the weather improved.