Israeli forces have attacked two boats belonging to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and towed them to the Israeli port of Ashdod after they disobeyed commands to stop sailing towards the Gaza Strip.
“The Freedom Flotilla Coalition calls on the Norwegian Government, the national governments of those aboard Al Awda and the Freedom, other national governments, and relevant international organizations to act immediately,” said Torstein Dahle of Ship to Gaza Norway, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.
“The international community must assume its responsibilities and demand that Israeli authorities ensure the safety of those on board, the speedy delivery of our gifts to the Palestinian people in Gaza, an end to the illegal blockade of Gaza, and to stop impeding our legal right of innocent passage to Gaza to deliver our gift of much-needed medical supplies.”
Carrying aid and €13,000 worth of medical supplies, the boat had expected to reach Gaza on Sunday evening but according to activists, the Israel Navy intercepted the Al Awda (the Return) less than 60 nautical miles from the blockaded coastal enclave. The IDF confirmed the ship was being brought to port at Ashdod.
Other activists come from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand / Aotearoa, Norway, Spain, Sweden, UK and the United States.
Following the Al Awda is a Swedish-flagged yacht called Freedom Italy with 36 activists coming from 15 different countries, Head of the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza (ICBSG) Zaher Birawi said.
Birawi, who is based in London, is head of the “International Coordination Committee for the Great Return March,” as well as the “International Committee for Breaking the Siege on the Gaza strip.”
The two ships have taken about two months to reach the coast of Gaza after setting sail from Scandinavia and stopping along the way at several port cities in Europe.
They are part of the wider Freedom Flotilla, which consists of several boats with pro-Palestinian activists who regularly attempt to break the blockade.
Most boats have been stopped by the Israel Navy several dozen miles away from Gaza’s coast and then towed to Ashdod port where activists are detained, questioned and then deported from Israel.
One of the most high-profile attempts in 2010 turned deadly when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship attempting to reach Gaza. Ten Turkish activists died in the incident.
Gaza’s National Committee for Breaking the Siege had called upon the residents of Gaza to participate in the official welcoming reception of the Freedom Flotilla ship, which was to take place at noon at the fishermen’s port in Gaza City.
But Adham Abu Salima, a spokesperson for the National Committee, confirmed the attack of Israeli forces on the Freedom Flotilla ship and that the committee has lost contact with the flotilla members.
MP Jamal al-Khudari, the head of the popular committee against the siege, condemned Israeli forces for preventing the Freedom Flotilla from reaching Gaza, seizing the ship in international waters, and redirecting it to the Ashdod seaport.
He pointed out in a statement that the solidarity activists aboard the ship sailed towards Gaza peacefully and legally. He added that the ship’s planned arrival in Gaza is aimed at breaking the unjust siege and is a right guaranteed by international law.