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ISRAEL

Ship to Gaza boarded by Israeli soldiers: report

Israeli soldiers have surrounded and boarded Estelle, a vessel operated by Sweden-based activist group Ship to Gaza, according to reports from the crew.

Ship to Gaza boarded by Israeli soldiers: report

“I can confirm that at around 10:15 Central European Time, Estelle was attacked by five or six military vessels. Soldiers wearing masks were trying to board the boat,” said Mikael Löfgren at Ship to Gaza to The Local on Saturday.

Löfgren told The Local that communication with the crew onboard the Estelle broke off shortly afterwards and telephone contact had not yet been re-established.

There are no reports of any violence in connection with the incident, which occurred in international waters.

“All I heard were voices that were not calm,” Löfgren said.

Ship to Gaza is part of the Freedom Flotilla which aims to raise awareness by attempting to break Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Two years ago at the first attempt to reach Gaza by sea, a Turkish vessel in the flotilla was boarded by Israeli soldiers resulting in the death of nine activists.

Aside from its symbolic cargo or necessities, the Estelle is carrying a crew of 17 which includes nationals from Sweden, Canada, Norway, Israel, Greece and the US.

Löfgren told The Local that the embassies of the nationalities onboard the vessel have been informed and that the organization’s lawyers had been contacted.

An Israeli government spokesperson has confirmed that the navy had contacted the Estelle and had been denied access, according to a report by Al Jazeera.

The spokesperson denied that the vessel had been boarded or attacked.

According to reports on shiptogaza.se the crew onboard the Estelle were contacted by the Israeli navy as they approached the Israeli coast on Saturday morning, some four hours from their destination Gaza City.

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ISRAEL

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.

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