Sweden calls on Israel to clarify aid convoy attack

Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt has summoned the Israeli ambassador to explain reports that Israeli armed forces have boarded the Freedom Flottila ships heading to Gaza, killing at least ten people.

Sweden calls on Israel to clarify aid convoy attack
Israel's ambassador to Sweden, Benny Dagan, leaving the foreign ministry

“We want a clarification over what has happened,” Carl Bildt said to Sveriges Radio P1 over the reports that the ships belonging to the “Ship to Gaza” convoy, carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip, had been boarded by Israeli military forces.

“We know that there are Swedes on some of the ships and we want to know what has happened to them. There appears no reason to question media reports that a Turkish vessel has been boarded, that a fire fight occurred and that people have been killed,” Bildt said.

The flotilla of ships, carrying a reported 600 people from around 50 different nations, left Cyprus on Sunday evening and was due to arrive close to Gaza on Monday morning. The convoy, loaded with 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, was intercepted in international waters, 65 kilometres off the Gaza coast, by Israeli warships and helicopters.

A live feed broadcast from a Turkish registered ship in the convoy shows Israeli forces boarding the ship and opening fire at around 8pm. Israeli military sources have confirmed ten dead, but other reports indicate that the death toll could be as high as nineteen, with dozens more injured.

Eleven Swedes are participating in the aid convoy including the author Henning Mankell, theologian Ulf Carmesund, Jewish artist and musician Dror Feiler and Swedish Green Party MP Mehmet Kaplan.

Swedish Green Party leader Peter Eriksson said that they had lost contact with Kaplan at around 5pm expressed concern over his fate in what he described as a completely legitimate and reasonable non-violent protest.

“If Israel has used extensive violence and killed people then it has to be seen as very serious. And it is important that there are strong reactions from both Sweden and other countries,” Eriksson told news agency TT

The convoy was organised by activists from a slew of countries to protest the continued isolation of Gaza and to help arrest a deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Mikael Löfgren at Ship to Gaza Sweden has confirmed that all the ships in the flotilla have been boarded, including the Swedish ship Sofia.

“We received a call from Dror Feiler, who was on board our boat Sofia, at 4.30am in the morning, and then he heard shots from the ships that were being boarded,” he told the TT news agency on Monday adding that the Sofia was boarded 15 minutes later.

Löfgren told the Local on Thursday that the activists were aware of the Israeli government’s warnings, and stressed that the project is a peaceful non-violent operation.

“We will not meet violence, with violence,” Löfgren said on Thursday.

Israeli military sources however claimed on Monday that their forces were fired upon and that four soldiers were wounded while boarding the Turkish vessel. The report contradicts several recent statements from flotilla organizers who have insisted that none of the six vessels were carrying any weapons.

Israel imposed an economic blockade after the Islamist movement Hamas took power in Gaza in June 2007.

Israel claims that despite the blockade 15,000 tones of humanitarian aid are allowed into Gaza every week, which according to the United Nations is less than a quarter of what is needed.

As the flotilla began its highly publicised voyage towards the Gaza, and before Monday’s attacks, the Israeli government has said that it would forward the humanitarian aid supplies on the ships once they had cleared customs.

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Israel intercepts Swedish Gaza-bound activist boat

The Israeli navy intercepted a Swedish-flagged activist boat bent on breaching its more than decade-long blockade of Gaza, the second in less than a week, the military said on Saturday.

Israel intercepts Swedish Gaza-bound activist boat
Photo: TT

“The ship was monitored and was intercepted in accordance with international law,” the military said in a statement, before the vessel, named Freedom for Gaza and carrying 12 people, was taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

“The (military) clarified to the ship’s passengers that they are violating the legal naval blockade and that any humanitarian merchandise can be transferred to Gaza through the Port of Ashdod,” the statement said.

The people on board were taken for “further inquiry.”

The organisers of the flotilla said the boat, which was carrying medical supplies, was intercepted in international waters.

“The demands of Ship to Gaza are that the ship with its crew and cargo will be returned to the site of the boarding, and that they will be allowed to go in peace through international and Palestinian waters in accordance to international law,” they said in a statement.

“This is a demand that the eleven years-long illegal and destructive blockade on Gaza will be lifted at last.”

Freedom was the second boat of the “Freedom Flotilla” to be intercepted en route to “break the blockade” on Gaza, organisers said.

Four boats left from Scandinavia in mid-May and stopped in some 28 ports along the way, with two remaining behind after a recent stop in the Italian port of Palermo.

On Sunday, the Israeli navy intercepted a Norwegian-flagged activist boat that was part of the flotilla.

Israel has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2008 and says the blockade is necessary to keep them from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes.

UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas where 80 percent of the two million population are dependent on aid.