JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli Navy intercepted an activist ship in the waters off the coast of the Gaza Strip.
Commandos from the Shayetet 13 naval special forces unit boarded the Marianne of Gothenburg early Monday morning and began sailing the ship, which was trying to breach Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza, to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
The takeover of the vessel and its approximately 20 passengers was short and there were no casualties, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. The passengers are expected to be interviewed and then deported. Among the passengers is the Arab-Israeli lawmaker Basel Ghattas of the Joint Arab list.
The IDF said the seizure followed numerous requests for the ship to change course, in accordance with international law. Three other flotilla ships carrying about 30 passengers turned back before they were be boarded.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended the sailors and commanders of the Navy for their “determined and efficient action in detaining the passengers on the ship that tried to reach the Gaza coast in contravention of the law.”
“This flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting the Hamas terrorist organization and ignores all of the horrors in our region,” Netanyahu said in a statement released after the takeover of the Marianne. “Preventing entry by sea was done in accordance with international law and even received backing from a committee of the UN Secretary General.”
In a letter to be distributed to flotilla passengers upon their arrival in Israel, Netanyahu said: “Welcome to Israel. You seem to have gotten lost. Perhaps you meant to sail to a place not far from here – Syria, where Assad’s army is slaughtering its people every day, and is supported by the murderous Iranian regime.
“Here in Israel we face a reality in which terrorist organizations like Hamas try to kill innocent civilians. We defend our citizens against these attempts in accordance with international law.”
“Despite this, Israel transports goods and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip – up to 800 trucks a day. In the past year we enabled the entry of over 1.6 million tons of products, an average of one ton per person in the Gaza Strip. By the way, these supplies are equivalent to 500,000 boats like the one you came in on today.”
In a statement issued Monday morning, Ship to Gaza Sweden called on Israel to return the Marianne, release the passengers and allow them to travel to Gaza.
“Ship to Gaza Sweden protests against this flagrant abuse of the freedom of navigation,” the statement said. “Israel’s repeated acts of piracy in international waters are worrying signs that the occupation and blockade policy extends to the entire eastern Mediterranean.”
In the past, Israel’s Navy has intercepted ships attempting to breach the blockade. The Foreign Ministry said aid groups may send supplies to Israel for inspection, after which permissible goods would be transferred to Gaza.
In 2010, an Israeli Navy commando takeover of the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship carrying activists armed with knives and clubs ended with nine Turkish nationals dead.