Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF on Saturday for its takeover of a Gaza-bound ship carrying pro-Palestinian activists. He said the Estelle ship’s passengers aimed only to provoke, and to slander Israel.
The IDF found no humanitarian equipment onboard, despite activists’ claims that they were delivering needed materials to the Strip.
In a televised statement, the prime minister hailed the military’s “efforts in safeguarding the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in accordance with international law.”
Netanyahu said that the people on the ship, among them three Israelis, “know that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and their only goal is to create a provocation and to slander Israel’s name.”
He added that if human rights were indeed important to the activists, 25 in total, they would have sailed to Syria.
The Estelle’s passengers and crew included activists and members of parliament from Greece, Sweden, the US, Canada, Norway and Israel.
The Israeli Navy on Saturday surrounded the Estelle as it approached the coastal strip. The stated intent of the activists onboard was to breach the Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Masked IDF soldiers boarded the vessel without employing the use of force and rerouted it to the port of Ashdod, where it arrived just after 8 p.m. local time.
According to activists, the soldiers boarded the ship while it was still in international waters, some 38 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza.
IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz asked the military prosecutor to explore whether or not legal action can be taken against the Estelle’s passengers.
Victoria Strand, a Stockholm-based spokeswoman for the campaign, told AFP the Estelle, a 174-foot (53-meter) schooner, came “under attack” shortly after the Israeli vessels approached it. Dror Feieler, an Israeli activist aboard the ship, was quoted by AFP as saying the ship was “attacked at 10:15 a.m.”
Sailing under the Finnish flag, the Estelle was reportedly carrying two olive trees as well as 41 tons of cement, toys, medical equipment, and books.
Israel maintains that an air and sea blockade of Gaza, in place since 2007, is necessary in order to obstruct the flow of weapons to Hamas.
Under heavy international pressure, Israel eased the blockade in 2010 after an Israeli naval raid killed nine Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Gaza-bound ship.
The Marmara incident hastened the deterioration of diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey. The Turkish government has called on Israel to apologize for the raid, pay compensation to the families of the deceased and to lift the Gaza blockade.