JERUSALEM – A Gaza-bound aid ship was just a few dozen miles from the blockaded Palestinian territory early today, and was being tailed by three Israeli naval boats, a pro-Palestinian activist told the Associated Press.
The activists’ latest attempt to crack the blockade will test Israel’s resolve as it faces a wave of international outrage over its deadly takeover of another aid ship earlier this week.
The Israeli military had no comment on its plans.
Diplomatic fallout and protests across Europe and the Muslim world have increased pressure to end the embargo Israel imposed after the Islamic militant Hamas group seized power in Gaza three years ago. The blockade has plunged the territory’s 1.5 million residents deeper into poverty and sharply raised Mideast tensions as the U.S. makes a new push for regional peace.
Shortly after 5 a.m. Israel time, Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza movement that sent the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie said the vessel was 35 miles from Gaza’s shores.
“There were two warships in the back of them … and a smaller boat was approaching,” Berlin said from the movement’s headquarters in Cyprus, citing a passenger on board.
Israeli troops still hadn’t boarded the Rachel Corrie nearly two hours later, and Free Gaza’s lawyer, Audrey Bomse, said the Israeli vessels had not yet made contact with the activists’ ship.
Activists on board the Irish boat, including a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, have insisted they would not resist if Israeli soldiers tried to take over their vessel. They rejected Israeli and U.S. appeals to bring the ship to an Israeli port instead.