Israeli warship approaches boat carrying Jewish activists bound for blockaded Gaza

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Israel warship approaches Gaza-bound activist boat

JERUSALEM — An Israeli warship approached a catamaran carrying Jewish activists toward the blockaded Gaza Strip on Tuesday in the waters off Gaza, the captain of the sailboat said.

The Irene is the latest vessel to try to breach the 3-year-old embargo on the Palestinian territory in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish-led flotilla in May, which drew international condemnation.

Capt. Glynn Secker said the navy warship was about 12 miles (20 kilometers) away from his own boat, which he estimated to be 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Gaza’s shore.

Secker said he expected the navy to intercept the Irene, which is carrying nine Jewish activists from Israel and other countries.

“We will not obey them, we will not help them,” Secker said. “But we will not confront them physically. We will engage in no violence.”

The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about the dispatch of the warship. But earlier in the day, it said it would not intervene until the catamaran tried to breach the blockade.

Israel has asked the vessel, which Secker said was carrying medicines, therapeutic toys, water purifiers and outboard engines, to dock in an Israeli port. Cargo that receives security clearance would be transported to Gaza.

In the end, Secker predicted, the catamaran will be towed to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, as has happened with other blockade-busting ships.

The Israeli foreign ministry has labeled the voyage “a politically motivated provocation.”

Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed in May when Israeli commandos raided the lead ship in the Turkish-led flotilla. Both sides claimed they acted in self-defense.

The international condemnation triggered by the deaths forced Israel to relax its land blockade of Gaza but the naval blockade remains in force. Israel, with Egypt’s cooperation, imposed the blockade after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007.

The measure was intended to keep out weapons, turn Gazans against their militant Hamas rulers and pressure the group to free a captive Israeli soldier. Those aims were not achieved but the embargo deepened the misery of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.

Activists behind the convoy involved in May’s deadly raid have said they will send a new flotilla of at least eight ships to try to break the blockade by the end of this year. The Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella group of pro-Palestinian activist behind the efforts, said no date has been set.

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