Israeli military vessels have moved to intercept a convoy of emergency aid – including building materials and childrens book – being sent, along with hundreds of humanitarian works, human rights observers, journalists and parliamentarians – to the besieged Palestinian territory of Gaza.
According to reports on Twitter coming directly from the FreeGaza boats, three Israeli naval vessels have approached them. Journalists allowed aboard one of the Israeli naval vessels as they left Haifa earlier this afternoon confirmed that the warships' destination was to intercept the peaceful convoy. Amongst the several hundred passengers on the boats are a Jewish Holocaust survivor, former US Army colonel and a former deputy secretary general of the UN. Just 2 days before the flotilla set sale, the EU's spokesperson for Foreign Affairs stated that "The EU remains gravely concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
The continued policy of closure is unacceptable and politically counterproductive. We would like to reiterate the EU's call for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza." The flotilla has also been supported by senior UN officials in Palestine.
A series of Twitter messages from the boats sent from 9pm UK time (around 11pm Gaza time) read:
CHALLENGER 2 CONTACTED BY IDF RADIO A/O APPROACHED BY IDF SHIPS 13 minutes ago via web Retweeted by you and 18 others
HELP signal on www.witnessgaza.com. Please stay and watch 22 minutes ago via web Retweeted by you and 23 others
contact location of the #Flotilla with Israel Navy added to the map at http://witnessagaza.com 34 minutes ago via web Retweeted by you and 11 others
We may loose the wireless. We didn't expect them now. We thought they will arrive at the morning, please stay in touch with the other boats 36 minutes ago via web Retweeted by you and 10 others
From the IHH ship: people here put there life jackets, every body preparing here. We are in international waters 37 minutes ago via web Retweeted by you and 10 others
From the IHH ship...3 boats are coming, not two, 3 israeli boats, we are 78 mile from Israel
The FreeGaza movement successfully sent a number of boats to Gaza prior to the Israeli invasion of the territory in December 2008, which killed over 1400 people, most of them civilians and several hundred of them children. Several subsequent attempts to enter Gaza by boat through the Israeli blockade – illegal as collective punishment under international law – have resulted in boats being rammed by Israeli naval vessels, or their crews arrested and deported. Israel withdrew its settlements and formal military presence from Gaza in 2005, but continues to implement a strict blockade which has resulted in shortages of many foodstuffs and medical equipment in the territory.
The boats which make up the current flotilla have stated that they will attempt to continue to Gaza despite the Israeli naval harassment.