Peace activists' ferry to Gaza seized by Israeli navy


ISRAEL’S NAVY yesterday seized a Greek-registered passenger ferry carrying 21 peace activists and humanitarian goods plying international waters 24 nautical miles off the Gaza coast.

Israeli sailors boarded the vessel in the afternoon and ordered its crew to sail to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod.

The Cyprus-based Free Gaza movement which organised the voyage said the vessel, dubbed the Spirit of Humanity, had been shadowed by sometimes two, sometimes six Israeli warships, before being forced off its Larnaca- to-Gaza course.

The boat’s navigation and communications systems were inoperative for several hours, compelling the British captain to rely on traditional navigational instruments.

Passengers said the Israeli navy threatened to open fire if they did return to Cyprus.

Those on board included Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairéad Maguire, former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and activists from Bahrain, Britain, the US, Jamaica and the Palestinian territories.

Ms Maguire said US president Barack Obama “has called upon the Palestinians to abandon violence, but is denying them the right to non-violently resist the siege of Gaza”.

First mate Derek Graham, an electrician from Co Mayo, has served on the five successful crossings attempted by the movement.

The last three were interdicted by the Israeli navy. The Dignity, a yacht that made the journey to Gaza twice, was rammed by the Israelis last December and eventually sank in port.

Mr Graham’s wife, Jenny, said the crew and passengers were expected to be taken from Ashdod to holding cells at Ben Gurion airport until they are processed for deportation. She has been in contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.

The ferry was carrying three tonnes of medical supplies, toys and tool kits for Gazans deprived of basic supplies by Israel’s blockade.

Israel has said the aid will be delivered to Gaza after inspection.