Navy preparing for May 31 flotilla
Navy preparing for May 31 flotilla Israel news photo: IDF

Israeli commandos have successfully and peacefully overtaken the boat of  Jewish activists trying to break the maritime embargo on Hamas-controlled Gaza. The "Irene" boat is being towed to the Ashdod port.

At least two Navy vessels stopped the yacht before it could come closer than 20 miles from the Gaza coast. A Navy commander had advised the ship’s captain to head for Ashdod to avoid a confrontation and allow authorities to transfer to Gaza any humanitarian aid that may be on board. 

One of the activists on board is Yonatan Shapira, who was dismissed from IDF duty in 2003 after he joined 25 other pilots in declaring he would not fly any more missions against the Palestinian Authority.  A few months ago, he spray-painted, "Free the Ghettos, Free Gaza and Palestine" on a wall at the Warsaw Ghetto.

Also on board is Marion Kozak, the mother of Ed Miliband, Britain’s first Jewish head of the Labor party. He was elected last week, defeating his brother David. a former foreign minister. An Israeli Channel 10 reporter also is sailing with the passengers.

Glynn Secker, captain of the ship, told the Associated Press earlier in the day, “We will engage in no violence." He added that the activists would not obey IDF orders but  would "not confront them physically.”

Israel has clamped a maritime blockade on Gaza since Hamas overthrew the rival Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in 2007 in a bloody militia coup. The Fatah-led PA, like Hamas, smuggled hundreds of tons of explosives and huge quantities of advanced weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, into Gaza by sea and through tunnels beneath the border with Egypt.

Pro-Hamas supporters began sending ships to Gaza a year ago, ostensibly to bring aid but admittedly aimed at challenging Israeli sovereignty over the Gaza coastal waters, as a condition of the Oslo Accords and the unilateral expulsion of Jews and withdrawal of the IDF from Gaza in 2005.