Israel Holds Gaza Boat, Foreign Dignitaries

Israeli navy troops seized on Tuesday, June 30, a Gaza blockade-defying boat loaded with humanitarian aid and detained 21 human rights workers from 11 countries, including Noble laureate Mairead Maguire and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

"This is an outrageous violation of international law against us," McKinney, a former US presidential candidate, said in a statement mailed to

"Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip."

Israel admitted that its navy force boarded and seized the Free Gaza Movement boat, the Spirit of Humanity, which was sailing under a Greek flag.

They also detained 21 human rights workers from 11 countries, including Maguire and McKinney.

The Israelis towed the vessel and its passengers toward the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod.

An Israeli spokesman said they had been contacting the boat since Monday and warned that it would not be allowed to enter Gazan waters "because of security risks and an existing naval blockade."

Earlier on Tuesday, the Free Gaza movement said Israeli warships had surrounded its boat and threatened to open fire if it did not turn around.

At one point, the Israelis jammed the boat’s instruments, blocking their GPS, radar and navigation systems.

The US-based Free Gaza Movement campaigns for lifting of Israel’s blockade imposed on Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million, since Hamas was voted to power in 2006.

Israel blocks humanitarian aid including harmless goods such as cheeses, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and toilet papers.

The humanitarian catastrophe created by the siege further aggravated after Israel’s three-week war.

Symbolic Aid

Huwaida Arraf, Free Gaza Movement chairperson and delegation co-coordinator on this voyage, denied posing any security threat.

"No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel. We carry medical and reconstruction supplies, and children’s toys.

"Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed, and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters."

Free Gaza Movement Activists have made five successful missions to Gaza from Cyprus since August 2008 — but boats have been turned back twice by Israeli forces.

McKinney, the former US Congresswoman and presidential candidate, insisted they were only a symbolic humanitarian mission.

"President Barack Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do."

Fellow passenger Maguire, winner of a Noble Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland, agreed.

"The aid we were carrying is a symbol of hope for the people of Gaza, hope that the sea route would open for them, and they would be able to transport their own materials to begin to reconstruct the schools, hospitals and thousands of homes destroyed during the onslaught" she said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a report on Monday that the people of Gaza are "trapped in despair."

Thousands whose homes were destroyed during the war are still taking shelter in makeshifts tents because Israel refuses to allow cement and building material into their coastal enclave.

"Our mission is a gesture to the people of Gaza that we stand by them and that they are not alone," Maguire said.

( and Agencies)

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