Israeli navy intercepts activist boat trying to break Gaza blockade

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The Norwegian-flagged al-Awda is said to be carrying 22 people and a cargo of medical supplies

A second boat that is part of the same group, the Swedish-flagged Freedom, is expected to arrive in the same area shortly
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Sunday 29 July 2018 15:08 UTC
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Israel's navy has intercepted a Norwegian-flagged activist boat trying to break the more than decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip, the military and activists said.

"The activity ended without exceptional events," a military statement said on Sunday. "At this time the ship is being transferred to the port of Ashdod" along the coast of central Israel.

An activist group affiliated with the boat, the al-Awda (the Return), said 22 people and a cargo of medical supplies were on board.

A second boat that is part of the same group, the Swedish-flagged Freedom, is expected to arrive in the same area in the next couple of days, according to the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

Four boats left Scandinavia in mid-May and stopped in some 28 ports along the way, the coalition said. Two boats remained behind after a recent stop in Palermo.

Shortly before the al-Awda, which is a fishing boat, was intercepted, the coalition released a statement saying the Israeli navy was issuing warnings to it.

"The Israeli navy claims our ship is breaking international law and threatens that they will use 'any measures necessary' to stop us," it said.

"In fact, the only 'necessary measures' would be to end the blockade of Gaza and restore freedom of movement for all Palestinians."

It said afterwards on Twitter that the boat had been "hijacked by Israeli forces".

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In 2010, Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists when they raided a six-ship flotilla trying to reach the Gaza Strip in defiance of the blockade. Another activist died years later.

The botched raid angered Turkey and saw it cut off ties with Israel until 2016.

Other attempts to run the Israeli blockade included a 2016 women's boat with 13 passengers including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Their sailing boat was halted by the Israeli navy and taken to Ashdod, about 30km north of Gaza, and the women were detained before being deported.

UN officials and rights activists have called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian enclave of two million people run by Hamas.

Sunday's interception comes with tensions especially high between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Palestinians have been protesting every Friday since 30 March as part of the Great March of Return.

The protest campaign calls for an end to the 11-year Israeli blockade on Gaza and for Palestinian refugees' right of return to the lands that their families fled during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Since the demonstrations began, the Israeli army has killed at least 157 Palestinian protesters and wounded more than 16,000, according to Gaza's health ministry.

One Israeli soldier has been killed in the same time period.