The Israeli Navy stopped and seized a fishing boat that attempted to break through the naval blockade around the Gaza Strip, arresting the eight Palestinians on board, some of them people injured in recent border clashes with Israeli troops, the military said.
The vessel’s purported destination was Cyprus, however the boat lacked the equipment necessary to safely reach the island nation, making it more likely that this was a symbolic act of protest.
“The vessel was seized without incident,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
After a search of the vessel, the boat was towed to the Israeli Navy’s base at the Ashdod port.
IDF medics provided treatment to the injured people on board the vessel, the army said.
Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had gathered to see off the boat. Among the passengers were four people said to have been wounded by Israeli soldiers during recent riots along the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip. The other passengers were said to be students.
The passengers “with specific needs are prevented from travelling, receiving care, and finishing their studies,” said organizer Raed Abu Dair. “We are determined to break the blockade.”
Mahmud Abu Ataya, 25, who recently suffered a leg wound east of Gaza City, said: “I am leaving to be cared for abroad.”
This was the second time in two months that a Gazan fishing vessel was used in an attempt to break the blockade, which Israel maintains is necessary to prevent terrorist organizations from bringing weapons into the coastal enclave. The blockade, which is also enforced by Egypt, has been deemed legal by the United Nations and other international bodies, though it remains hotly contested by many human rights groups.
Under the blockade, which was put in place in 2007, Palestinians are forbidden to travel more than 11 kilometers (seven miles) from the Gaza shore.
“This is the second time in two months that the Hamas terror group tried to cause a provocation at sea by taking advantage of injured and handicapped people and by paying residents of Gaza to take part in this kind of activity,” the army said.
On May 29, another vessel from the Gaza Strip, called Al-Hurriyah (Liberty), attempted to run the blockade.
“The IDF seized a Palestinian boat carrying some 17 sailors who broke the sea blockade,” the navy said at the time. “The seizure was carried out without incident.”
Then too the boat was towed to Ashdod.
The May attempt to break the blockade was timed to mark eight years since the Mavi Marmara, a boat owned by a Turkish group, sought to break the blockade and was boarded by Israeli troops. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the ensuing melee between IDF soldiers and armed protesters.
The boarding of the Al-Hurriyah took place in the midst of an extensive exchange between Palestinian terrorist groups and the Israeli military, in which some 200 rockets and mortar shells were fired from Gaza into Israel, and the IDF struck dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip in retaliation.
AFP contributed to this report.