JERUSALEM (JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Israeli military’s operation to seize a ship attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.
"Even the people who were on the ship know that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza," Netanyahu said Saturday night. "Their entire objective was to create a provocation and blacken Israel’s name. If human rights were really important to these activists, they would sail to Syria. We will continue to take strong and determined action to defend our borders."
Israeli naval commandos earlier in the day had boarded Estelle, a Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged sailing vessel carrying up to 30 activists from countries including Canada, Norway, Sweden, Israel and the United States. Members of parliament of four European countries reportedly also were on board, as were three Israelis, on behalf of the Gush Shalom organization, who all boarded in recent days from a speedboat in Greek territorial waters.
The boarding took place after the ship ignored calls to change course. The commandos who boarded the ship did not use force, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces. The passengers were offered food and drink and checked to make sure they were healthy.
The IDF told Ynet that an initial search of the boat, which was taken to the Ashdod port, did not turn up any humanitarian aid. The boat reportedly was carrying humanitarian aid such as cement, basketballs and musical instruments.
Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after the terrorist group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. It says the sanctions are to prevent weapons and other terror material from being smuggled in to Gaza.
The Freedom Flotilla’s first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists after Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip.