Israel navy seizes Gaza protest flotilla, organisers say

Israel navy seizes Gaza protest flotilla, organisers say
A small fleet of boats pushed off the Gaza coast on Tuesday aiming to breach the Israel blockade.
2 min read
29 May, 2018
Boats carrying Palestinians who seek treatment or to study abroad set off from Gaza [Getty]
The Israeli navy has stopped and seized a Gaza flotilla protesting its blockade on the strip, organisers have said. 

A small flotilla of boats left Gaza's fisherman's port on Tuesday morning with the goal of breaking the decade-long Israeli blockade. 

The small fleet aimed to reach Cyprus, protesting Israel's restrictions on Gaza's coast which for years has blocked vital supplies from reaching the impoverished strip.

But the flotilla was intercepted on its journey, one of the organsiers said.

"Israeli forces surrounded it and intercepted it," Salah Abdul Atti told AFP.

Communications had been lost with the boat for more than 30 minutes, he added.

The protest was organised by the Great Return March National Organizing Committee, a group now known for staging the large border protests since late March which Israel violently attempted to suppress. 

The 11-year-long Israeli blockade has long starved the Gaza Strip from receiving much needed humanitarian aid, including food stuffs, medical equipment, and clean water.

Explainer: Life in Gaza under Israel's blockade

Starting in 2007 the blockade limits Palestinians use of their territorial sea to 9 nautical miles (16 kilometres). This zone is allocated for fishing and other "small scale economic activity". However, the Israeli authorities limit these activities as well, often targeting any boats which enter the zone.

Tuesday's protest comes in the aftermath of Israel's violent suppression of the Great Return March demonstrations which peaked two weeks ago when at least 61 Palestinians were shot dead during the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem.

This small band of vessels is made up of a collection of small fishing and recreational boats with a total of 35 people.

The lead and largest of which has 16 people onboard, mainly sick, wounded and trained youths who wish to study abroad. They set out with the goal of seeking much needed medical attention for many on board and to shed light on the effects the blockade has had.

One individual on board named Abdul Menim Aabed stated his reason for joining the flotilla. "I can't walk right anymore and I can't get the treatment I need here in Gaza...I'm desperate," he told Gaza news site We Are Not Numbers.

Some organisers said they would only protest, while other participants said they wanted to breach the Israeli limit.

It was not initially clear how Israel's military would respond and it was yet to comment on the protest.

Agencies contributed to this report.