Gaza-bound ship to test Israeli blockade
(CNN) — A ship attempting to break Israel’s sea blockade of Gaza hopes to dock at its destination Saturday morning, a spokesman said, despite repeated warnings by Israeli officials.
Sailing under the Finnish flag, the 53-meter vessel is carrying two olive trees, 41 tons of cement, books, toys, and medical equipment.
“The Estelle is around 80 naval miles from Gaza right now,” said ship spokesman Mikael Lofgren. It “is moving forward as planned to dock on Saturday morning.”
Those on board the ship are hoping to call attention to the blockade of the Palestinian territory, which has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007.
Among those sailing are a priest, a lawmaker, and Reut Mor, an Israeli activist.
“I want to say that we are here to give a message of solidarity to the people of Gaza,” Mor said from aboard the Estelle. “The siege is inhuman and immoral, and this is the reason — as non-violent peaceful activists — (we) decide(d) to risk ourselves and break the siege.”
A spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces said early Saturday that she had no information as to when the ship would be intercepted.
Vessels attempting to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza have sparked controversy — and violence — in the past.
In 2010, an Israeli raid on one flotilla ship, the Mavi Marmara, resulted in nine Turkish activists being killed, a development that led to the deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey, once close allies. Israel was roundly criticized by many over the deaths.
A U.N. report criticized Israel for its use of excessive force in the incident but described the blockade — which activists call illegal — as a “legitimate security measure.”
Israel says it is concerned about the smuggling of arms to Gaza militants intent on attacking the Jewish state. Gaza is controlled by the anti-Israel Hamas militant group, regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel.
But activists say Israeli embargoes of goods into Gaza from land and sea are collective punishment of civilians in what is a tiny and densely populated strip of land along the Mediterranean coast.
Israel has said any organization or state that wants to give humanitarian aid to Gaza can do so in coordination with Israeli authorities via existing land crossings into the Palestinian territory.