The Swedish government has criticized Israel for intercepting and boarding a boat attempting to breach the maritime blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, saying those actions, as well as the detention of its activists and crew, violated international law.
“The (Swedish) government has been in contact with Israeli authorities about Ship to Gaza and has insisted that the actions of the Israeli authorities regarding the Swedish-flagged vessel Freedom and the people on board are not backed up by international law,” Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said Wednesday in a statement.
She said her government had also demanded that the ship and its cargo be released.
The organizers of the Ship to Gaza activist flotilla said Wednesday that seven Swedish activists detained aboard the ship have been deported to Sweden.
Four of the activists arrived back in the Scandinavian country on Wednesday, and the three others were expected later in the day, Ship to Gaza Sweden’s Israeli-born spokesman Dror Feiler told AFP.
The Israeli navy said it intercepted the ship, Freedom for Gaza, late Friday “in accordance with international law,” and took it to the port of Ashdod.
The ship was carrying medical supplies and had a total of 12 crew and activists on board, hailing from Sweden, Spain, Canada, Germany and France. All have been deported, Feiler said.
Israel has defended the legality of Friday’s seizure, recalling that a 2011 UN report found its naval blockade on Gaza was legal.
Last week, Norway also panned Israel for arresting Norwegian activists and intercepting a Gaza-bound ship part of the same flotilla.
“We have asked the Israeli authorities to clarify the circumstances around the seizure of the vessel and the legal basis for the intervention,” a Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying at the time.
Freedom was the second boat of the “Freedom Flotilla” to be intercepted en route to break the blockade on Gaza, organizers said.
Israel has said humanitarian aid to Gaza can be sent in overland after security checks.
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.