Israel intercepts protest boat trying to break Gaza blockade
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Israel intercepts protest boat trying to break Gaza blockade

Navy detains 17, tows vessel to Ashdod; Israeli medics offer treatment to Palestinians on board said injured in recent clashes; smaller boats remain within permitted fishing zone

A picture taken on May 29, 2018 shows fishing boats carrying a group of Palestinian activists who are protesting Israel's naval blockade on Gaza, getting set to sail from Gaza City harbor. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
A picture taken on May 29, 2018 shows fishing boats carrying a group of Palestinian activists who are protesting Israel's naval blockade on Gaza, getting set to sail from Gaza City harbor. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Israeli navy stopped and seized control of a boat carrying demonstrators as it tried to leave the Gaza fishing zone on Tuesday in defiance of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave.

“The IDF seized a Palestinian boat carrying some 17 sailors who broke the sea blockade,” the navy said. “The seizure was carried out without incident.”

The navy said after it had been searched, the boat would be towed to port in the Israeli city of Ashdod.

Organizers had said the vessel was carrying wounded Gazans seeking treatment, and the IDF said medics were waiting to treat the sick or injured on board if necessary.

“Afterwards the Palestinians will be returned to Gaza,” the army said.

A picture taken on May 29, 2018 shows fishing boats carrying a group of Palestinian activists who are protesting Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza, setting to sail from Gaza City harbor. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The boat was initially accompanied by a group of smaller vessels as it departed from the fishermen’s port in Gaza City.

“Israeli forces surrounded it and intercepted it,” Salah Abdul Atti, one of the organizers, told AFP.

Communications had been lost with the boat for more than 30 minutes, he added.

Israel maintains a security blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas, the Islamist terror group which rules the Strip and seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry.

Gazan fisherman are permitted by Israel to sail 16 kilometers (10 miles) off the coast.

A picture taken on May 29, 2018 shows fishing boats carrying a group of Palestinian activists who are protesting Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza, setting to sail from Gaza City harbor. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A Gaza advocacy website said that only one vessel, a fishing boat called Al-Hurriyah (Liberty), would attempt to sail from Gaza to an undisclosed destination. The vessel was said to carry Palestinians who were either injured and seeking treatment or wanted to study abroad.

“Protest organizers have warned potential passengers it is likely the Al-Hurriyah will be attacked by the Israeli navy and they could be arrested as well. Still, [wheelchair bound Abdul Menim] Aabed and others are lining up to register for this first attempted voyage or for others that will follow,” the website said.

A picture taken on May 29, 2018, shows fishing boats carrying a group of Palestinian activists who are protesting Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza, setting to sail from Gaza City harbor. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The 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 as several barrages of rockets and dozens of mortar shells were being fired from Gaza into Israel, and the IDF struck targets in the Gaza Strip in retaliation.

Tuesday’s “reverse flotilla” was slammed by US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt.

US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt attends a press conference regarding the water agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on July 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a series of early morning tweets, Greenblatt condemned Hamas, which has ruled the Strip since 2007, for what he termed “deadly theatrics” that needlessly imperil the lives of innocent civilians.

“Shame on all involved in inciting the so called ‘reverse flotilla’ today. Hamas treats this like a play being acted out for a live media audience. But these are real lives Hamas is cynically risking in a grim bid to hold on to power,” Greenblatt wrote.

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