Israel intercepts Gaza-bound aid flotilla

Greek coastguards stand in front of Canadian boat “Tahrir” after forcing the Gaza-bound ship to return to the port of Agios Nikolaos, July 4, 2011.
Israeli naval vessels have intercepted a Gaza-bound international aid flotilla seeking to break the crippling blockade of the Palestinian territory.

According to a Press TV correspondent on-board one of the ships, the two vessels were shadowed by Israeli warplanes and naval vessels in international waters on Friday as they approached the besieged Gaza Strip.

Eight Israeli warships made radio contact with the ships, calling on them to change course towards Egypt or to turn around.

Israeli marines boarded the vessels about 50 nautical miles from Gaza after pro-Palestinian activists refused to turn back. There were no reports of violence.

Organizers had earlier said that ”those on board (the two aid vessels) have been instructed not to put up any resistance to the Israeli navy when it tries to intercept them”.

According to the Israeli military, the aid boats were towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, north-east of Gaza.

The mini aid flotilla, called Freedom Waves to Gaza, left the Turkish port city of Fethiye on Wednesday and was scheduled to reach the Gaza Strip on Friday.

The Canadian ship, Tahrir (Freedom), and the Irish ship, Saoirse (Freedom) are carrying 27 activists, including journalists and crewmembers, along with 30,000 dollars worth of medicine.

Activists on the Freedom Waves to Gaza are from Canada, Ireland, Egypt, US, and Australia. They say their international humanitarian mission is “to challenge Israel’s ongoing criminal blockade of the territory.”

Israeli has intercepted Gaze-bound aid flotillas before. On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters, killing nine Turkish activists and injuring dozens of others.

Ankara-Tel Aviv relations soured following the attack. Israel refuses to apologize for the attack on the Turkish-flagged ship.

Turkey says relations between the two sides can only be restored if Tel Aviv apologizes for the attack, compensates the families of those killed and the injured, and lifts its deadly years-long blockade on the Gaza Strip.

( / 04.11.2011)

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