Israeli Military Boards Gaza Boats

The Israeli military boarded on Friday two vessels bound for the Gaza Strip, activists and army officials said.

The Tahrir, a yacht crewed by Canadian activists, was being boarded about 35 nautical miles from the Gaza Strip, activists on board announced Friday afternoon. Contact with the boat ended shortly thereafter.

"We have lost contact with the Tahrir and the (Irish) Saoirse and are hoping for the best, but we fear the worst," said organizer Dylan Penner.

The navy boarded the ships "after all attempts to prevent them from breaking the maritime security blockade failed," said Avital Leibovich, an Israeli army spokeswoman, on Twitter.

She said the boats would be taken to Ashdod port and the crew transferred to police.

The boarding was carried out after calls to the activists onboard, the army said in a statement. It also released video footage of the initial boarding of one of the vessels.

"Following their unwillingness to cooperate, and after ignoring calls to divert to the port of Ashdod, the decision was made to board the vessels and lead them there," the statement said.

Huwaida Arraf, a spokeswoman for the activists, said in a statement that "27 civilians on two small boats, carrying only medicine, constituted no security threat to the Israeli state, and that the determination to keep them out is only a furtherance of Israel’s policy of collective punishment, a crime against humanity.

"Despite this Israeli aggression, we will keep coming, wave after wave, by air, sea, and land, to challenge Israel’s illegal policies towards Gaza and all of Palestine," she said.

"Our movement will not stop or be stopped until Palestine is free."

A live map created by the US-based Electronic Intifada website showed the boats were still in international waters when the Israeli army made contact on Friday afternoon.

Organizers of the Tahrir and the Saoirse boats, who aimed to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, said forces had at 1:12 p.m. Gaza time requested the final destination of the boats via radio contact.

Crew responded "the conscience of humanity," and upon second request "the betterment of mankind," media liaison for the flotilla Laurence Davis told Ma’an.

The crews were contacted shortly after viewing two Israeli ships rapidly approaching the flotilla at 48 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast, Davis said.

The army said in a statement that it "advised the vessels that they may turn back at any point, thereby not breaking the maritime security blockade, or sailing to a port in Egypt or the port of Ashdod."

"The activists refused to cooperate," it said.

The army later released footage of a sailor making contact.

The boats are carrying 27 people from nine countries.

They set sail to Gaza from Fethiye, Turkey, in a secret launch due to accusations in July that Israel tried to sabotage a previous effort, the activists said in a statement Wednesday.

(Ma’an News)

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