'Arion' sailing from Cyprus reportedly carries aid; ship navigated to Ashdod port; crew detained by IDF.
By YAAKOV KATZ
The Israel Navy on Tuesday intercepted a ship carrying foreign peace activists as it tried to break a blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The ship, sailing under the name Spirit of Humanity and flying a Greek flag, was forced to dock in the Ashdod Port.
The IDF said the navy began tracking the ship after it left a port in Larnaca and began sailing towards Gaza. Twenty-one human rights workers from 11 countries, including Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire and former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney were reportedly onboard, together with medical supplies and toys for children.
According to reports, the navy contacted the ship and warned it that it would not be allowed to sail into Gaza. In 2008, Israel allowed several ships carrying human rights activists to sail into Gaza but changed its policy after Operation Cast Lead six months ago.
The ship, sponsored by the Free Gaza movement, continued sailing towards Gaza despite the warnings. The crew and passengers later claimed the navy fired shots at the ship.
The IDF said if an organization or country wanted to transfer supplies to Gaza, this could be done by coordinating with the government, but not by ship.
The Cypriot Embassy in Tel Aviv issued a statement following the incident, saying "The Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Israel would like to announce that the Spirit of Humanity boat, sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement, that attempted in the early hours today to reach Gaza was given permission by the competent Authorities of the Republic of Cyprus to sail off the port of Larnaca in Cyprus on the basis of its declaration that its intended destination was the port of Port Said in Egypt."
Former congresswoman McKinney accused Israel of violating international law.
"Our boat was not in Israeli waters and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip," McKinney said. "President [Barack] Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that's exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.
"The aid we were carrying is a symbol of hope for the people of Gaza, hope that the sea route would open for them, and they would be able to transport their own materials to begin to reconstruct the schools, hospitals and thousands of homes destroyed during the onslaught of [Operation] Cast Lead," McKinney continued.
"Our mission is a gesture to the people of Gaza that we stand by them and that they are not alone" said fellow passenger Maguire, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland.
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