Freedom Flotilla foiled: Israel blocks Palestinian attempt to leave Gaza by sea

The Israeli military, enforcing a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, have prevented two Palestinian boats from reaching the open sea. The attempt was part of a wider Palestinian protest against Israeli policies in Gaza.

On Tuesday dozens of small motor boats and two larger vessels carrying 17 people departed from a seaport in Gaza Strip. Their stated goal was to break out of the Israeli-enforced naval blockade of the area and travel to an undisclosed location.

The so-called Freedom Flotilla was carrying people, who Palestinian activists said were illegally restricted by Israel from leaving Gaza Strip, including students and two people injured in the border fence violence by Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The action was probably more symbolic than practical in nature, aimed at showcasing the effect that the Israeli blockade has on the life in Gaza Strip 11 years after being imposed. Three other events under the same name, which involved ships trying to reach the Palestinian territories despite the blockade, were thwarted in the past by the IDF.

The first case in 2010 ended in a controversial raid by Israeli commandos on six ships, in which 10 activists were killed. The Tuesday attempt was far less dramatic. The IDF intercepted the two passenger boats some six to seven nautical miles off the coast and seized the larger of them, arresting 12 people on board, journalist Hind Khoudary reported from the scene. The captain of the second boat was ordered to return and complied.

The IDF said they would tow the boat to a military port in the city of Ashdod to process the detained people. The Israelis said people requiring medical assistance among the passengers would receive it. Organizers say the blockade-breaking attempt was part of the ongoing Great March of Return campaign that began at the end of March and became a major controversy due to the scale of violence it is associated with.

IDF soldiers killed dozens of people protesting near the border fence and injured over a thousand, saying their use of lethal force was justified by the threat posed by the protesters. The Palestinians were burning tires, sending incendiary kites over the fence and throwing rocks at the Israeli troops.

A second attempt to break through the Gaza naval blockade is expected later this year. Another Freedom Flotilla set sail from Copenhagen last week.

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