The IDF announced Saturday morning that it had stopped a boat attempting to break the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. The military said in a statement that there were no “exceptional events” during the course of the incident, and that the boat was towed to port in Ashdod.
“The forces made it clear to the sailors that they were violating the blockade and that any humanitarian supplies [it is carrying] can be delivered to Gaza through the port of Ashdod,” the IDF said, noting that the boat was tracked and stopped in accordance with international law.
The “Freedom Flotilla” group said that the Swedish-flagged “Freedom” was “under attack” after contact was lost on Friday evening.
The boat was one of two vessels making up the flotilla, alongside “Return,” which was stopped earlier this week.
— Freedom Flotilla (@GazaFFlotilla) August 4, 2018
The flotilla was organized by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella of organizations aiming to end the closure of Gaza, and set sail from the Danish port of Copenhagen.
Those on board the ships include Prof. Ismail Nazari, chairman of Malaysia’s boycott Israel campaign; Charlie Andreason of Sweden, who spent time in Israeli detention for his role on the Marianne, a Swedish-flagged trawler leading a flotilla of boats in June 2015; Spanish Jewish activist Zohar Shamir Chamberlain; and Heather Milton-Lightening, an activist for indigenous Canadians.
The flotilla’s two-month journey saw the ships stopping off at several European ports to take part in activities supporting the Palestinians’ so-called “March of Return.”
It is under the “March of Return” banner that more than 100 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in violent clashes with Israeli security forces along the border fence since March 30.
Most of the Palestinians killed were members of the Hamas terror group, according to the group itself.
Hamas has promised Gazans that they will “return” to homes in what is now Israeli territory. The Palestinians claim that tens of thousands of original refugees, displaced at the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, and their millions of descendants, have a “right of return.”
Israel will not agree to such a “return,” which would see a Palestinian majority outnumbering Jews and effectively bringing an end to the Jewish state.
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.
Critics point to worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza and say the blockade amounts to collective punishment of the 2 million Palestinians living there. There have been many reports that the coastal strip is “on the verge of collapsing,” and could plunge into a new round of fighting with Israel if conditions do not improve.
Egypt, too, has kept its Gaza border crossing largely closed during several years of sour relations with the Islamist group ruling Gaza.
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.