Israel intercepts aid boat bound for besieged Gaza Strip

Vessel carrying some 23 people is redirected to the Israeli port of Ashdod, a week after setting off from Italy.

    A boat loaded with aid for residents in the besieged Gaza Strip has been intercepted by Israeli naval forces.

    The Awda, carrying at least 23 people, was meant to reach the Gaza port approximately at noon local time on Sunday, but was redirected instead to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

    It was part of a flotilla attempting to break a 12-year-old blockade imposed by Israel and neighbouring Egypt.

    With 16 different nationalities on board, including some Israeli citizens, The Awda set off from the coast of Palermo in Italy a week ago.

    Al Jazeera's Charles Stratford, reporting from Ashdod, said the Israeli army confirmed intercepting a boat that departed from Europe in order to "violate the legal naval blockade that is imposed on the Gaza Strip".

    Although they expected the interception to happen, those on board noted they sailed "as a symbolic means of drawing international attention to the plight of 1.8 million people living in Gaza under that siege", Stratford said.

    "We know the boat was carrying around $15,000 worth of medical equipment," he added.

    The organisers of the voyage, called Break the Siege committee, condemned in a statement Israel's interception, demanding that the governments of the people on board take immediate action.

    The Israeli army said in a statement it had monitored and intercepted the vessel in accordance with international law, and that any humanitarian assistance that the boat was carrying would be delivered to Gaza.

    Attempts to break the siege

    The journey by the Awda was the latest in a series of bids aimed at reaching Gaza.

    In 2010, an attempt turned deadly when Israeli soldiers stormed the Turkish Mavi Marmara flotilla, killing 10 Turkish nationals.

    And in 2015, a flotilla of four boats bound for Gaza was redirected to Ashdod.

    It was only in 2008 that two boats carrying 40 people successfully managed to reach the coast of Gaza. At the time, Israel's foreign ministry said it had provided the flotilla with permission.

    Earlier this month, Israel sealed off the Karam Shalom border crossing (known to Palestinians as Karem Abu Salem) - the primary passageway that transfers necessities to residents of Gaza, saying it was in retaliation over Palestinians setting fire to Israeli land.

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    The move has only allowed for the transfer of humanitarian needs such as cooking gas, as well as wheat and flour into Gaza, an official responsible for coordinating the movement of cargo through the border confirmed to Al Jazeera on July 9.

    Additionally, Gaza's 4,000 registered fishermen are prohibited by Israel from fishing past six nautical miles off the coast of the Strip, which they say is not enough space to serve some 1,000 boats.

    The land, air, and naval blockade has led thousands in Gaza to protest near the fence with Israel in recent weeks. It also prompted residents to set sail from the coast of Gaza in May in a bid to break Israel's imposed boundary.

    For the first time in more than a decade, that boat, which carried at least 25 patients, students and activists, managed to cross nine nautical miles (16km) before four Israeli warships flanked it and redirected it to Ashdod.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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