June 29, 2015 / 5:38 AM / in 2 years

Israel blocks foreign activist flotilla from reaching Gaza

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli forces boarded a boat leading a protest flotilla of foreign activists to the blockaded Palestinian enclave of Gaza on Monday and forced it to sail to an Israeli port, the Israeli military said.

A pro-Palestinian ship named Marianne is escorted to Ashdod port in southern Israel after it was seized by Israeli navy at the Mediterranean sea, Israel June 29, 2015. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Activists said the boat also carried a group of journalists and politicians, among them former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and a European Parliament lawmaker for Spain.

Israeli troops boarded the boat in international waters then searched and seized it, an Israeli military statement said. No bloodshed was reported.

The flotilla was the latest in a series of such voyages across the Mediterranean in protest against Israel’s nine-year blockade of Islamist Hamas-dominated Gaza.

In 2010, Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists when they commandeered their vessel in the Mediterranean Sea, causing a diplomatic row between Turkey and Israel.

The Israeli statement said: “After exhausting all diplomatic channels the Israeli government ordered the Israeli Navy to redirect the vessel in order to prevent breach of the naval blockade.”

It said troops searched the vessel and then escorted it to the Israeli port of Ashdod. The passengers would be handed over to immigration authorities and deported.

The pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement said the five-vessel flotilla had been led by a converted fishing trawler called the “Marianne of Gothenburg” with about 50 activists from 17 countries, including an Israeli Arab lawmaker.

Former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki was among 18 people on board the “Marianne,” flotilla spokeswoman Ann Ighe said. Marzouki, 69, was elected after a 2011 uprising and led Tunisia until 2014.

Ana Maria Miranda Paz, a European Parliament member from Spain, was also on board, Ighe said.

Activists said the boats had set sail on Sunday with a cargo of solar panels intended to help alleviate electricity shortages in Gaza, as well as medical equipment for the impoverished territory, home to 1.7 million Palestinians.

Reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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