The Israeli navy on Sunday intercepted and seized a freedom flotilla aid ship which was trying to break the 12-year blockade of the besieged Gaza strip. The ship, named, Al Awda (The Return), had set sail under the Norwegian flag from Palermo in Italy about a week ago, carrying at least 23 activists of 16 different nationalities, including some Israelis.
The ship was carrying medical supplies worth approximately 150,00 dollars, according to an activist group affiliated with the ship. The Israeli military said in a statement that “the activity ended without exceptional events.” The statement went on to say that the ship was being taken to the port of Ashdod in central Israel.
A statement by the freedom flotilla coalition, released prior to the seizing of the ship, said that the Israeli military had started issuing warnings to it. The crew of the ship was told it was breaking international law and that Israel would use ‘any measures necessary’ to stop it.
“In fact, the only ‘necessary measures’ would be to end the blockade of Gaza and restore freedom of movement for all Palestinians,” the statement concluded.
A second ship named ‘Freedom’, sailing under the flag of Sweden, with 36 activists from 15 different countries, is expected to reach Gaza in the coming days, according to Zaher Birawi, head of the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza.
The freedom flotilla originally had four ships which left Scandinavia in the middle of May, stopping at 28 European ports on its way to Gaza. Two ships stayed behind at Palermo.
Torstein Dahle of Ship to Gaza Norway, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, urged the Norwegian government, the governments of those on board the two ships, other national governments and International organizations to immediately take up the matter with Israel.
“The international community must assume its responsibilities and demand that Israeli authorities ensure the safety of those on board, the speedy delivery of our gifts to the Palestinian people in Gaza, an end to the illegal blockade of Gaza, and to stop impeding our legal right of innocent passage to Gaza to deliver our gift of much-needed medical supplies,” Dahle added.
Since the last eight years, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition has been launching campaigns to defy the Israeli siege. Another flotilla attempting to break the siege was intercepted and seized on May 29 this year, 9 miles off the Gaza coast.
The Israeli military has unfailingly intercepted every such flotilla. The most horrendous such incident was in 2010, when the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara was raided by Israeli commandos, leading to the death of 10 people.
Israel, along with Egypt, has maintained an air, sea and land blockade of the Gaza strip, resulting in very dire and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions for the almost 2 million citizens of Gaza.
The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations have repeatedly called upon Israel and Egypt to lift the blockade, failing which, Gaza will be ‘unlivable’ by 2020.