News / Middle East

Israel Intercepts Gaza Aid Boat Carrying Jewish Activists

A boat with 9 Jewish activists aboard sets sail from Famagusta harbor in the Turkish-occupied north of ethnically divided Cyprus in a bid to breach the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, 26 Sep 2010.
A boat with 9 Jewish activists aboard sets sail from Famagusta harbor in the Turkish-occupied north of ethnically divided Cyprus in a bid to breach the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza, 26 Sep 2010.

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Israel's navy has intercepted a small boat carrying nine Jewish activists who were trying to reach the Gaza coast.

It was the latest attempt by international activists to call attention to the three-year-old blockade that Israel enforces on Gaza.

The vessel, a small British-flagged catamaran, was carrying what is being described as symbolic quantities of toys, musical instruments and prosthetic limbs.  Its passengers included a Holocaust survivor, a former Israeli fighter pilot and an Israeli man whose daughter died in a Palestinian suicide bombing in 1997.

Organizers say Israeli navy vessels approached the boat on Tuesday before a soldier boarded and handcuffed the captain.  The boat has been towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Israel criticized the activists' attempt to break the blockade.

Brigadier General Avi Benayahu, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, told Israeli radio that there were no casualties.  

He said the boat had nothing to do with humanitarian aid.  He accused the organizers of staging a media stunt and creating a provocation.  He called the incident "especially regrettable" because it pitted a group of Jews and Israeli citizens against the Israeli armed forces.

Organizer Naomi Wayne says the group's aim was not only to call attention to the blockade, but also to tell Gaza's residents that many people among the world's Jewish population oppose Israel's policies toward Gaza.  

"You can either sit down under injustice or you can stand up to be counted," Wayne said. "We had a very faint hope that the Israeli authorities might look at our tiny boat with its elderly passengers and its peaceful crew and let us through and we thought it was worth trying."   

Israel has come under international criticism for its raid on a Turkish flotilla in May, in which nine activists were killed.

Israel maintains its blockade on Gaza to deter the members of the militant Islamist group Hamas that rules the enclave, and whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

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