JERUSALEM (TheBlaze/AP) — Israeli naval vessels thwarted the advance of a pro-Palestinian boat attempting to reach Gaza on Saturday in defiance of Israel’s blockade of the territory, the military said.
The ships diverted the Estelle to the nearby port of Ashdod after passengers refused to steer the vessel off its course, the military said in a statement. The some 30 passengers on board did not offer resistance.
“A short while ago, Israeli naval soldiers boarded the Estelle en route to the Gaza Strip attempting to break the maritime security blockade,” the statement said.
“The Navy force operated as planned to guarantee the safety of the soldiers and passengers on the deck. The soldiers did not use force while seizing the ship, and gave the activists food and water,” the military added, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Victoria Strand, a spokeswoman for Ship to Gaza in Sweden, which sent the Estelle, told the Associated Press that armed, masked soldiers boarded the boat and cut their communications as they were some 30 nautical miles from Gaza. She said activists on board told her that some six naval boats surrounded their vessel.
“This is a demonstration of ruthlessness,” Strand said.
Strand told CNN that because the boat was still in international waters, it was “an act of piracy to board the ship.”
The Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged Estelle left Naples, Italy, on Oct. 7 with about 30 people from eight countries, reportedly carrying items like cement, basketballs and musical instruments.
They were trying to challenge Israel’s blockade, imposed since the militant group Hamas seized the coastal territory in 2007. The U.S. and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. The ship was the latest in a series of activist-manned boats challenging Israel’s blockade on Gaza, imposed out of concern over militants smuggling in arms to attack the Jewish state. Activists have sent a series of blockade-defying vessels to Gaza, most of which have been similarly diverted to Ashdod.
Israel warned Finland earlier this week it would keep the ship out of Gaza waters, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
In 2010, an Israeli naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla killed nine Turkish activists on board, sparking international condemnation that forced Israel to ease much of its blockade, although it maintains restrictions on key exports and imports of raw materials.
An Israeli military spokesperson told the Jerusalem Post any organization or country wishing to reach Gaza or deliver humanitarian aid may do so legally over land with cooperation of Israeli authorities.