TEL AVIV – The Israeli navy intercepted a women-only flotilla aimed at breaching the security blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Wednesday, about 35 miles off the coast.
A little earlier in the day, the women on board wrote that they were in the clear, tweeting:
#WomenToGaza now 60 nautical miles from the coast of #Gaza
No occupation forces in sight
To Gaza with <3, here we come !
In a first for the IDF, an all-female squad of soldiers took over the boat. The 13 passengers on board the Zaytouna-Olivia did not resist and the boat was redirected to Ashdod port, an Israeli official said.
The Women’s Boat to Gaza, an initiative of the International Freedom Flotilla Coalition, set out from Barcelona along with another boat, the Amal 2. The second boat had to turn back because of a technical malfunction, According to Haaretz, organizers suspect that the boat was sabotaged.
Speaking to AFP by telephone on Tuesday, the group’s spokeswoman Claude Leotic expressed “fear there will be an Israeli attack” to prevent the boat from reaching Gaza’s shores.
The boat, which set sail under a Dutch flag, had among its passengers several parliamentarians, an Olympic athlete, a retired U.S. army colonel and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.
So far, none of the attempts to break the blockade have worked. In January, Israeli troops intercepted and rerouted the Gaza-bound boat Marianne, in a short operation without any casualties.
The Swedish boat was carrying 20 activists, among them Israeli lawmaker Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) and former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki.
In 2010, Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish flotilla Mavi Marmara, which also attempted to break the blockade. The passengers on board attacked the troops using stun grenades and metal batons. In the violence, ten Turkish activists were killed and several IDF soldiers were wounded.
The incident led to the severing of ties between Israel and Turkey for close to six years. As part of the recent reconciliation deal, Jerusalem has since apologized.