JERUSALEM (AP) – Police blocked an Israeli protest boat Sunday from trying to break through Israel’s naval blockade and carry activists and aid supplies to the Gaza Strip.
The boat was to depart from a Tel Aviv-area port. It was the latest in a series of similar attempts to attract attention to Israel’s sanctions against Gaza by sailing there.
The journey was organized by Israeli Arab political parties and private groups. Israeli Arab lawmakers and other activists were to have been among the roughly 100 passengers, and the cargo was to include food and medicine, as well as toys and sweets for an upcoming Muslim festival, said Zahi Nujeidat, a spokesman for Israel’s Islamic Movement, one of the groups behind the trip.
Police officers contacted the boat’s owner and warned him that sailing to Gaza would violate Israeli law, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. The law forbids Israeli citizens from entering Gaza, and for the same reason, police arrested three people with a truckload of goods bound for the boat, Rosenfeld said.
International activists have made three successful boat trips from Cyprus to Gaza. Israel’s navy ignored those boats, but turned away a Libyan vessel last week. Sunday’s attempt was to have been the first attempt by an Israeli boat.
Israel and Egypt blockaded Gaza after the militant Hamas group seized power in June 2007. Israel tightened its sanctions after militants began firing rockets and mortars at southern Israeli communities last month in violation of a truce.
The military says eight rockets and mortars were fired at Israel on Sunday. No injuries were reported.
The sanctions have deepened the hardship for Gaza’s largely impoverished population of 1.4 million, though some goods enter through smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.
In Gaza, the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees said the organization would halt food distribution to 750,000 Gazans early next week if new supplies didn’t come in. U.N. distributions were delayed last month for several days because aid supplies were depleted.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel “has no intention of accepting” the ongoing fire, but did not announce any concrete steps.
In a bid to bolster Hamas’ moderate rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Israeli government gave final approval to releasing 230 Palestinian prisoners allied with Abbas’ Fatah movement on Tuesday, according to a government statement. The release is timed to coincide with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.
Olmert also criticized Jewish settlers for attacking Palestinians after Israeli police evicted settlers from a disputed building in the West Bank town of Hebron on Thursday. Video from an Israeli human rights group showed a settler shooting two Palestinian rock-throwers with a handgun, and a second settler also opening fire.
“The spectacle of Jews standing with weapons and firing at innocent Palestinian civilians has no name other than pogrom,” Olmert said.