Captain who tried to breach Gaza blockade says Israel broke international law

Norway asks Jerusalem to explain ‘allegations of excessive use of force’ in arrests of activists on boat en route to Hamas-run coastal enclave

A ship prepares to set sail for Gaza as part of an attempt to bust the blockade on the territory, May 22, 2018 (Courtesy: International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza)
A ship prepares to set sail for Gaza as part of an attempt to bust the blockade on the territory, May 22, 2018 (Courtesy: International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza)

OSLO, Norway — The captain of a Norwegian boat carrying pro-Palestinian activists en route to Gaza accused Israeli authorities of violating the law by boarding the vessel in international waters and using violent force against its crew.

Norway asked Israel to explain the circumstances surrounding the arrests and “the allegations of excessive use of force,” a Norwegian government spokesman told AFP on Thursday.

“We were arrested in international waters and we were closer to Egypt than Israel,” the boat’s captain Herman Reksten said early Thursday when he returned to Norway after being held for three days in an Israeli prison.

“Israel has broken all the rules; it’s horrific that they board a Norwegian ship in international waters and force it to moor in Israel,” he told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

The IDF on Sunday announced the seizure of a boat off the Gaza Strip with activists on board who were denouncing the land and sea blockade imposed by Israel on the Palestinian enclave for more than a decade.

Egypt, too, has kept its Gaza border crossing largely closed during several years of sour relations with the terror group ruling Gaza.

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

The Norwegian-flagged Karstein ship had 22 people on board.

Several have been released since, but seven people — two Norwegians, two Swedes, one French, one Spaniard and one Canadian — were still detained on Thursday, according to the rights organization Just Future for Palestine.

As he arrived at Oslo International Airport, Karstein captain Herman Reksten also accused Israeli soldiers of shocking the activists with tasers.

“I still have a headache from being hit in prison,” he added.

Contacted by AFP, the Israeli embassy in Oslo was not immediately available for comment.

“We’ve asked the Israeli authorities to clarify the course of events and on what basis they think they are entitled to intervene on the ship,” Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman Frode Andersen told AFP in an email.

“We will also raise the allegations of excessive use of force,” he added.

Oslo said it had not yet received a response.

Many attempts have been made to draw attention to the Palestinian cause using blockade-busting flotillas.

Two years ago, 13 women, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, were detained and then deported after their sailboat, “Women’s Boat to Gaza,” was stopped around 35 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza on its way to break the blockade.

The Israel Navy said at the time that it had stopped the boat to prevent a “breach of the lawful maritime blockade” of the Palestinian enclave and after advising it “numerous times to change course prior to the action.”

The most notorious flotilla sailed in 2010 and involved the Turkish flag-bearing Mavi Marmara, the biggest ship in a six-vessel convoy. IDF commandos who boarded the ship were violently attacked by those on board. Nine Turkish citizens, including one with American citizenship, were killed in the ensuing melee, and a tenth died of his wounds years later. A number of Israeli soldiers were injured in the raid.

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