Monday 11 December 2017

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore facing demands to intervene after Israeli interception of aid boat

Brian Hutton

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore was tonight facing demands to intervene over the Israeli interception of an Irish boat trying to break the naval blockade on Gaza.

The MV Saoirse was one of two vessels being towed to the port of Ashdod by Israeli military after what it described as a peaceful takeover.

Former rugby player Trevor Hogan, an MEP and several other politicians are among human-rights activists on board.

Along with the Canadian ship MV Tahrir, which also set sail as part of a humanitarian mission with medical supplies, the vessels are carrying 27 passengers from seven countries.

The Israeli military said the boats were "attempting to break the maritime security blockade that is in place in accordance with international law".

Sinn Fein foreign affairs spokesman Padraig MacLochlainn urged Mr Gilmore to seek the immediate release of the Irish crew on board the MV Saoirse.

"He must ensure that the human and civil rights of Irish citizens, who are now in Israeli custody, are protected, and that Irish consular assistance is provided immediately upon arrival to the Israeli port of Ashdod," he said.

Mr MacLochlainn also claimed that the interception was a clear act of piracy.

He added: "This outrageous defiance of Israel to international law is becoming habitual and appears to be without consequence. It makes a laughing stock of international legal conventions."

Colm Lawless, national chairman of the youth wing of Mr Gilmore's Labour Party, called on the Tanaiste to warn Israel of the consequences of harming Irish activists.

"The Israeli government ought to be prevented from bullying the people of Gaza and the political activists who support the oppressed Palestinians," he said.

Among the 14 Irish citizens on board the MV Saoirse are Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy, former Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews, Siptu official Mags O'Brien, artist Felim Egan, People Before Profit councillor Hugh Lewis, Sinn Fein councillors Pat Fitzgerald and John Hearne, and Zoe Lawlor, who teaches at the University of Limerick.

The Israeli Embassy in Dublin had warned the vessels would be intercepted before reaching Gaza and accused those on board of being "hypocrites on a provocative publicity stunt".

Earlier, in Gaza, an activist said protesters aboard the boats reported that they were surrounded by Israeli naval vessels. Contact with the activists was then lost when their satellite phones stopped working.

The Israeli military issued a short video clip showing a naval official calling on the ships to turn around.

"The Gaza area and coastal region are closed to maritime traffic as part of a blockade imposed for security purposes," the unnamed officer said.

"Your attempt to enter the Gaza Strip by sea is a violation of international law. We remind you that humanitarian supplies can be delivered to the Gaza Strip by land, and you are welcome to enter (Israel's) Ashdod port and deliver supplies through land crossings."

Israel says its naval blockade of Gaza is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching militant groups like Hamas, the Iran-backed group which rules the territory. Critics call the blockade collective punishment of Gaza's residents.

Last year, nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when they resisted an Israeli operation to halt a similar flotilla. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

The incident sparked an international outcry and forced Israel to ease its land blockade on Gaza.

Militants in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the past decade and now have much of southern Israel in range.

The MV Saoirse was forced to pull out of a flotilla in June after it was damaged while docked in Turkey, which activists claimed was deliberate sabotage by Israel.

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