The Israel Navy seized a ship overnight Friday sailing from Europe in an attempt to break the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, the military said.
The ship was brought to Israel's port of Ashdod and the passengers were transferred for medical treatment, the IDF added. “The forces made it clear 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 12 passengers are mostly from Sweden but also from Germany, Britain, Spain, France and Canada.
The SY Freedom for Gaza was carrying mainly medical supplies and two of its passengers were journalists, said an organizer from a group named Ship to Gaza, which organized the trip.
“Ship to Gaza demands that those who have been taken prisoner and the ship and its cargo are returned to the location where the ship was boarded and are allowed to continue their journey in international and Palestinian waters unmolested, in accordance with international law,” the group said in a statement.
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A similar incident took place last Sunday, when the Israel Navy stopped a boat flying under a Norwegian flag. The one-time fishing boat, with 22 passengers from 16 different countries, was carrying medication for people in Gaza.
Israel says its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip is intended to prevent weapons from reaching militant groups, including Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Palestinian enclave. Israel and the United States designate Hamas as a terrorist organization.
United Nations- and Egyptian-led efforts are under way to mediate a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which have fought three wars since 2008.
Hamas officials had no immediate comment on the ship’s seizure. Similar attempts by activists to challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza have been foiled before.
The most serious such incident was in 2010, when Israeli commandos raided a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, that was leading a flotilla to Gaza. Ten activists aboard were killed, leading to a major diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey.