Israeli navy board and seize Gaza flotilla, redirect it to Ashdod port
The Israeli navy on Wednesday boarded and seized an all-women flotilla heading to Gaza, and are redirecting it to Ashdod port, according to Israeli media.
“The flotilla was stopped, without resistance on the part of the passengers, 35 miles from Israeli waters,” a military source told Ynet, an online Israeli news website.
“There were 13 women on the boat, which is now on its way to Ashdod and it will arrive within hours,” the source added.
Ashdod is home to Israel's largest port, located 40 kilometres south of Tel Aviv.
Vyara Gylsen, a spokesman for the flotilla, told Middle East Eye earlier in the day that she had lost contact with the Zaytouna at 4pm CEST.
In a statement the group said: "At 1558 (CEST) on 5 October, we lost contact again with the Zaytouna-Oliva and presume that the Israeli Occupation Navy has now begun to attack it and that it has been surrounded in International Waters."
On board the flotilla are 13 women, including Mairead Maguire, the Nobel peace laureate from Northern Ireland, Fauziah Hasan, a doctor from Malaysia, and retired US army colonel Ann Wright.
The women set sail from Barcelona on 14 September in a bid to break a decade-long Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip. The Zaytouna, which means olive in Arabic, set sail from Spain as part of a larger freedom flotilla.
Palestinians on the Gaza Strip also took to the Palestinian coast to welcome the female activists as they attempted to reach the besieged coastal enclave.
Speaking to Middle East Eye earlier on Wednesday, Mairead Maguire, who is on board the flotilla, said that they expected to be "intercepted by the Israeli occupation forces," and have their "boats confiscated and taken to Ashdod".
The activists also pre-recorded SOS messages they wanted released on the internet in the event of them being arrested by Israel.
The flotilla was headed to Gaza as Israeli forces bombed the Gaza Strip after rockets were fired into the Israeli town of Sderot.
An Israeli army spokesperson said the flotilla rejected requests through different channels to stop the mission.
“The Israeli navy was able to raid the boat before its arrival to Gaza,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The raid was swift and with no injuries. It was carried after multiple calls to the women on board to turn around in the sea.”
The official said the flotilla was steered to the Port of Ashdod after the women were adamant to break the “legal zone” around Gaza.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, after Hamas was elected to govern the territory.
Residents of the Gaza Strip are struggling to cope with a crippled economy and stalled reconstruction following the 2014 50-day assault by Israel, the third and most devastating attack on the Strip since 2008.
Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" resulted in the deaths of at least 1,462 Palestinian civilians, a third of whom were children, according to the UN.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.