JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – The Israeli navy seized an international pro-Palestinian activist ship in the Mediterranean sea on Saturday to prevent it breaching its blockade of the Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said.
She said no one was hurt when marines boarded the SV Estelle, a three-mast schooner, and that it was rerouted to Israel’s southern port of Ashdod after it ignored orders to turn away from the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave.
The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement, and goodwill items such as children’s books, a mission spokesman said earlier on Saturday.
Shipboard activists could not immediately be reached for comment.
Citing a need to stem arms smuggling to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, Israel maintains a tight naval blockade of Gaza. Israel and neighbouring Egypt also limit overland traffic to and from the territory.
Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza’s 1.6 million residents and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, and in one May 2010 incident its marines killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their ship.
An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found that Israel’s Gaza blockade was legal but faulted the navy for excessive force.