Friday, 4 November 2011

Freedom Waves ships attacked by Israeli forces

The Freedom Waves ships have come under attack from Israeli boats and a military helicopter while still in international waters. Communications with the ships was lost shortly after one boat, the Tahrir, reported that Israeli boats were closing in. An earlier report said that the ships have been ordered to go to head for Egypt or turn around.

UPDATE: video of the ships being boarded

Reports state that the ships are being boarded, some say violently, but there appears to be no fatalities at this time. "Last thing I know is that fully armed soldiers boarded the Irish boat and activists didn't obey orders now they're boarding Tahrir", Palestine YouthVoice said. The two ships, carrying a total of 27 passengers and $30,000 worth of medicine and supplies, set off from Turkey on November 2.

Report from Press TV ahead of the boarding. More here.

"Israeli forces are responsible for the safety of everyone on board the ship - and the world is watching," The Canada Boat to Gaza said. The "estimated location of The Tahrir - now stopped and being boarded - was just 35 NM from Gaza".  A message from the Tahrir's  auxiliary communications system: 'IDF about to board the Tahrir'.
Tahrir, before setting off for Gaza. More here.

The ships were boarded, and are being led to the port of Ashdod, according to an IDF spokesperson. "The Israel Navy soldiers operated as planned, and took every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of the activists onboard the vessels as well as themselves," the spokesperson claimed.
This picture shows the Freedom Waves ships.

IDF - said that activists are "to be handed over police, examined and interrogated then deported for challenging Gaza blockade".

The IDF Chief of Staff "ordered the Israel navy to board the vessels after all attempt to contact them failed". An IDF spokesperson said "goods can be unloaded [at] Ashdod port and will be transferred into the Gaza Strip via the legal land crossings".

Both ships confirmed that they had been contacted by the Israeli navy. When activists aboard the Tahrir were asked for their destination at around 13:00 (Gaza time), Ehab Lotayef, an activist on board the ship, replied ‘The conscience of humanity’.  When the Israelis again demanded to know the destination of the ship Lotayef replied; ‘The betterment of mankind’, according to a press release.

This video appeared earlier today:

Hassan Ghani, a Press TV correspondent who is on one of the boats,  said in an interview that communications had been jammed and Israeli boats were closing in. Activists will offer passive non-violent resistance to the boarding. Ghani said a, military helicopter could be seen hovering above. Activists on the ship have described the attack as an illegal act of piracy.

Earlier this morning, activists aboard both ships were preparing for possible attack by the Israeli navy by training in nonviolent resistance tactics.

You can see the interview here:

The boats - Saoirse (Gaelic for freedom) and the Tahrir (Arabic for liberation) - are headed for Gaza in an attempt to break the siege. Ghani said that on "Tahrir there are 6 activists, 5 journalists, and the Captain - 12 in Total. On the Saoirse there are 15 activists, no journos". There are parliamentarians aboard the Saoirse, which is from Ireland. And the Tahrir "carries representatives from Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Palestine".

Picture of Israeli warships closing in.
Electronic Intifada reports that "the U.S. Representative on the Tahrir, Kit Kittredge, was a passenger on the U.S. Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope mission in Athens in July".

"A journalist from Democracy Now is on the Tahrir also. Civil society organizations in Gaza await their arrival, and look forward to the delivery of letters collected from thousands of U.S. supporters in the To Gaza With Love campaign.

Jihan Hafiz from Democracy Now filed this video report from the Tahrir boat:

Huwaida Arraf, spokesperson from Freedom Waves to Gaza, said “It’s clear that 27 civilians on two small boats, carrying only medicine, constituted no security threat to the Israeli state, and that the determination to keep them out is only a furtherance of Israel’s policy of collective punishment, a crime against humanity. Despite this Israeli aggression, we will keep coming, wave after wave, by air, sea, and land, to challenge Israel’s illegal policies towards Gaza and all of Palestine. Our movement will not stop or be stopped until Palestine is free.” 

This map shows land mass in black and ocean in gray. Territorial waters are outlined in light purple (Electronic Intifada).

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