The Marianne, a Swedish-registered ship which was intercepted at sea early Monday by Israel Navy commandos en route to the Gaza Strip, was brought into Ashdod port Monday night.
MKs Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka from the Joint (Arab) List arrived to greet party colleague Basel Ghattas, who was one of the 18 activists on board.
The interception of the ship early Monday morning occurred without incident and there were no injuries, the IDF said.
Hamas condemned the “kidnapping” of the activists, adding that “this ship succeeded in showing the crime of the blockade.”
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday evening that, contrary to the activists’ claims, there was no aid for Gaza on the ship. “It’s clear that [the flotilla] was an act of delegitimization against us,” he stated.
— Hamas Movement (@HamasInfoEn) June 29, 2015
Foreign activists who were on board, including former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, were set to be quickly deported.
“In accordance with international law, the Israel Navy advised the vessel several times to change course,” the IDF said in a statement earlier Monday.
“Following their refusal, forces visited and searched the vessel in international waters in order to prevent the intended breach of the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. The forces have reported that use of force was unnecessary, and that the process was uneventful. The vessel is currently being escorted to Ashdod port,” it went on.
Three other vessels in the flotilla changed course and headed away from Gaza overnight Sunday-Monday. The flotilla had intended to “break the blockade” imposed by Israel and Egypt on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Israel says the measure aims to prevent the import of weapons by Hamas, an Islamist terror group avowedly seeking to destroy Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the commandos on “their determined and efficient action in detaining the passengers on the ship that tried to reach the Gaza coast in contravention of the law.”
“This flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting the Hamas terrorist organization and ignores all of the horrors in our region. Preventing entry by sea was done in accordance with international law and even received backing from a committee of the UN secretary-general,” Netanyahu said in a statement released to the press.
Earlier, flotilla organizers confirmed that the three other boats accompanying the Marianne had turned back to their ports of origin without explaining why, and that the Marianne was sailing toward Gaza on its own.
“We once again call on the government of Israel to finally lift the blockade on Gaza,” the activists said. “Our destination remains the conscience of humanity.”
The activists had vowed not to use violence against the IDF forces, but to practice “passive resistance” when the boat was boarded, according to a Channel 2 reporter who was sailing with them.
On Sunday, Netanyahu’s office prepared a letter for the activists aboard the flotilla, slamming what it described as the hypocrisy of the group’s humanitarian mission to Gaza.
“Welcome to Israel!” the letter read. “It appears you’ve made a mistake along the way. Perhaps you meant to sail somewhere not far from here — Syria. There, Assad’s regime is massacring his own people every day with the help of the murderous Iranian regime.”
In May 2010, Israeli commandos intercepted the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla dispatched to Gaza by the Turkish relief agency Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), and were violently attacked by those on board, with several soldiers seriously injured. Nine Turkish citizens were killed when the commandos opened fire in what Israel said was self-defense, and one more died last year from injuries sustained in the incident.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas group wrested control of the Strip in a bloody coup, ousting the Palestinian Authority leadership.