Israel seizes pro-Palestinian activist ship, Estelle off Gaza


The Israeli navy seized an international pro-Palestinian activist ship on the Mediterranean high seas on Saturday to prevent it breaching Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said.

She said no one was hurt when marines boarded the SV Estelle, a three-mast schooner, and that it was rerouted to the Israeli port of Ashdod after it ignored orders to turn away from the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave.

The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement and goodwill items such as children's books, a mission spokesman said on Saturday.

Shipboard activists could not immediately be reached for comment on the interception, which was carried out in international waters as they were on their final Gaza approach.

Greece, five of whose citizens were among the activists, said in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Athens that all of the Estelle's passengers were in good health.

Citing a need to stem arms smuggling to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, Israel maintains a tight naval blockade of Gaza. Israel and neighbouring Egypt also limit overland traffic to and from the territory.

Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza's 1.6 million residents, and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, and detained foreign activists repatriated.

In a May 2010 interception, Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their Gaza-bound ship.

An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found the Gaza blockade legal but faulted the Israeli navy for excessive force.

Israel goes to U.N. in effort to halt Gaza-bound ship


Israel asked the United Nations to stop a Swedish-owned ship carrying human rights activists from attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, called the ship Estelle a “provocation” that “raises tensions and could easily spark a serious escalation of the conflict.”

“I want to stress that Israel is not interested in confrontation but remains determined to enforce its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — and will take all lawful actions to this end,” Prosor wrote in a letter delivered Tuesday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Part of the Freedom Flotilla movement, the Estelle reportedly is carrying humanitarian aid such as cement, basketballs and musical instruments. The small vessel began its journey in Sweden and toured Europe, including Finland, France and Spain, before arriving earlier this month in the Gulf of Naples. It is due to arrive in Gaza's territorial waters early next week.

The boat, flying the Finnish flag, also is carrying at least 17 activists from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Israel and the United States. Members of parliament of four European countries reportedly boarded the vessel at sea near Greece on Tuesday, according to the Swedish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, which said there are now some 30 activists.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after the terrorist group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. It says the sanctions are to prevent weapons and other terror material from being smuggled in to Gaza,

The Freedom Flotilla's first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists after Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel's naval blockade.

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