A high-seas showdown may be taking shape off the coast of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which is patrolled by the Israeli Navy as a Swedish ship is bent on breaking an Israeli blockade.
A Swedish ship carrying 17 pro-Palestinian activists from eight countries is sailing to Gaza and plans to attempt a run against Israel’s naval blockade as early as this weekend.
“My hope is that the world will see that this siege is unfair and counterproductive," said the vessel’s spokeswoman Victoria Strand.
Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the Palestinian territory of the the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, frequently fires rockets and mortars across the border at Israeli communities.
Israel says the ship's voyage is a provocation.
“You know these people call themselves human rights activists, but they’ve got absolutely nothing whatsoever to say about the ongoing attacks on Israeli civilians by terrorists. They’ve got also, not surprisingly, nothing to say about Hamas’s brutal regime in Gaza,” said the government spokesman Mark Regev.
More than two years ago, Israeli naval commandos intercepted an aid flotilla bound for Gaza and nine Turkish activists were killed in the incident, sparking international outrage. Israel has since stopped other sea-going attempts to deliver aid to Gaza without violence.
Strand says the activists on her ship don’t want any trouble and are simply bringing civilian aid to the Palestinians, from cement to basketballs to musical instruments.
“This action comes from people to people, from me as a human being as a mother, as a grandmother, to other mothers and grandmothers that have children and grandchildren. And I think they have the same right to live in a normal way as I have,” she said.
Israel says the blockade is a legal measure to thwart terrorism, and if the ship sails to Gaza it will be intercepted.