The Israel Navy stopped a flotilla of Palestinian activists who set sail from Gaza Tuesday to protest years of a naval blockade by Israel and Egypt on the Gaza Strip.
The navy prevented the flotilla from crossing the blockade line – six nautical miles off the coast. Navy ships also stopped one of the boats, with some 17 Palestinians aboard, after it crossed out of the area where allowed fishing boats are allowed and violated the blockade, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the IDF Spokesman said.
The Navy fired warning shots after the boat crossed the blockade line.
After searching the ship and the passengers, the ship will be towed to the Ashdod naval base. No unusual incidents were reported. The IDF said it will provide medical assistance to any of the ill or disabled passengers who may have needed it.
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The Palestinians will be returned to the Gaza Strip.
The flotilla consists of numerous vessels carrying 22 Palestinians activists, students and patients in need of medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip.
The boat's departure marks eight years since incident of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed and sparking an international outcry. Egypt and Israel's joint blockade on the coastal enclave started in 2007 after Hamas took control of Gaza.
“The Hamas terrorist organization, which is behind the attempt to violate the naval blockade, is trying to present a cynical show that at the end of the day can and will harm the citizens of Gaza and the aid that is brought into the Gaza Strip by Israel and other countries,” said the IDF Spokesman’s Office.
“The naval blockade is an essential and legal security blockade that has been recognized time after time by the world and the United Nations for the protection of the security of Israel and its maritime borders, which protects [Israel] against terrorism and the smuggling of weapons. The IDF will continue to enforce [the blockade] and defend the maritime borders of Israel and its citizens,” added the IDF.
The committee for the lifting of the blockade said the flotilla is not carrying any equipment or tools that could pose a threat or could be used for violence. According to the committee, the ship is scheduled to dock in Cyprus in a few days and is intended to send a message to the international community about the blockade. Gaza residents need more than just aid from the outside, they also need free access to the world, said organizers.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Israeli air force struck targets in Gaza in response to a barrage of 28 mortar shells fired toward southern Israeli communities early in the morning. One of the shells fell into the yard of a kindergarten.
Most of the mortars were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and no injuries were reported. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that the military would respond "with great force."
Over the past few days, Israel has been bracing for a response from Islamic Jihad after the Israeli military killed three of its militants and a Hamas member in strikes on the coastal enclave.