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Israel intercepts boat bound for Gaza

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Israel Intercepts Boat Bound for Gaza
By The Pulse

The Free Gaza Movement, an organization committed to breaking the siege of Gaza, has been dispatching boats from Cyprus and sailing them, or attempting to sail them, to the Gaza Strip since August 2008. Usually, the purpose of their missions has been to bring observers from the international community to Gaza to witness the conditions therein. Yesterday, one of the organization’s boats, a Greek vessel "Arion" that was renamed "The Spirit of Humanity," embarked on a mission to sail humanitarian aid to Gaza, and was seized by the Israeli navy for doing so.

The Associated Press [1] reports:

The Israeli navy intercepted a ship carrying foreign peace activists trying to break a blockade of Gaza on Tuesday and forced it to sail to an Israeli port, the military said.

A statement said the Greek-registered freighter Arion ignored a radio message from the Israeli military saying it would not be allowed to enter Gaza waters and ordering it to turn back.


The military said those on board would be handed over to immigration authorities on arrival in the southern port of Ashdod, and humanitarian cargo would be trucked into the Gaza Strip after a security check. The ship arrived at Ashdod port after nightfall.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to free the crew and passengers. "Nobody wants to keep them here," he said. "They will be released as soon as they are checked."

The Free Gaza Movement has organized five boat trips to Gaza since August 2008, defying a blockade imposed by Israel when the militant group Hamas seized control of the territory from its Palestinian rivals in June 2007.

Two other attempts were stopped by Israeli warships during Israel's three-week war in the territory in December and January. Nobody on board was harmed.

The blog Jewschool [2] reports that:

The boat contained 21 human rights workers from 11 countries, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. It was bringing medicine, toys, and other much needed humanitarian relief.

The Free Gaza Movement's website [3] posted its own report of the incident, and provided commentary offered by some of the ship's passengers:

"This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip," said Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Congresswoman and presidential candidate. "President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that's exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey."

"The aid we were carrying is a symbol of hope for the people of Gaza, hope that the sea route would open for them, and they would be able to transport their own materials to begin to reconstruct the schools, hospitals and thousands of homes destroyed during the onslaught of "Cast Lead". Our mission is a gesture to the people of Gaza that we stand by them and that they are not alone" said fellow passenger Mairead Maguire, winner of a Noble Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland.

Just before being kidnapped by Israel, Huwaida Arraf, Free Gaza Movement chairperson and delegation co-coordinator on this voyage, stated that: "No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel. We carry medical and reconstruction supplies, and children's toys. Our passengers include a Nobel peace prize laureate and a former U.S. congressperson. Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed, and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters."

Arraf continued, "Israel's deliberate and premeditated attack on our unarmed boat is a clear violation of international law and we demand our immediate and unconditional release."

Now, Ynet [4] is reporting that those on board the vessel will face deportation from Israel:

Israel is planning to deport within the next few days the 21 peace activists who arrived on a boat from Cyprus with the intention of entering the Gaza Strip.

Eight immigration police arrived at Ashdod police and performed a search of the activists' belongings. The detainees will then be transferred to the Immigration Administration in Holon. The police will take their fingerprints, and then send them to Ben Gurion Airport, where each one will face a hearing before the Interior Ministry before being deported.

Family members of those detained are both nervous for their loved ones and angry with Israeli officials:

Hana Araf, of Meilia village in the Galilee, uncle of Houida Araf, one of the Israeli-American citizens on the Gaza-bound boat said, "We haven't managed to get a hold of her, and we haven't received any information. We are worried. They can't deport her, and we will fight for this to the very end.

"She has an Israeli passport. She is a citizen of the state, and Israel has no right to detain her. What for, exactly? For trying to help people who have no food? In the past there were a few regimes that did this, the apartheid in South Africa, for instance. Is this the regime Israel wants to be associated with?"