Israel risked a new wave of international condemnation today when its troops boarded a boat attempting to break the blockade of Gaza and forcibly diverted it to the port of Ashdod.
Five days after the botched assault on a six-boat flotilla ended in the deaths of nine activists and international isolation for Israel, an unknown number of naval commandos stormed the MV Rachel Corrie in international waters, about 20 miles from the coast of Gaza.
Today’s operation was mounted despite growing calls for Israel to ease its siege of Gaza significantly. The US, Israel’s staunchest ally, said the blockade was “unsustainable and must be changed”.
Israel said it had met no resistance in stopping the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie. “They complied with us completely,” an Israeli military spokeswoman told the Observer.
Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement, the main organization behind the flotilla, said the passengers and crew had four times refused to accede to Israeli demands to divert to Ashdod voluntarily.
“There’s no way that 20 people are going to resist a fully armed force,” she said. “The fact that Israel boarded a civilian boat in international waters is a violent act.”
She expected the 11 passengers – including the Nobel peace laureate Máiread Maguire– and nine crew would be treated “with kid gloves: the world is watching”.