Last updated: 23 October, 2012

Greek Gaza boat activists denounce Israeli action

Greek pro-Palestinian activists, who were detained when their Gaza-bound boat was intercepted by the Israeli navy, on Tuesday denounced what they described as heavy-handed action by the Israeli commandos.

“The balaclava-clad commandos from the Israeli marine carrying heavy weapons came aboard the boat and acted like a militia,” said Vaguelis Diamantopoulos, a Greek MP from the far-left Syriza party who was aboard Estelle, a Finnish vessel.

Israeli navy troops boarded the vessel on Saturday, ending the latest attempt by pro-Palestinian activists to breach Israel’s tight maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip, which prohibits all sea traffic to and from the coastal territory.

The Greek activists were among 27 people arrested on Saturday. The Israeli authorities later expelled them.

On Tuesday, the activists screened footage taken during the incident which showed Israeli inflatable boats each carrying 10 to 15 armed commandos and patrolling naval boats.

“They sent out the army for 30 activists,” the boat’s captain Vangelis Pissias said.

Pissias vowed that such attempts at breaching the maritime blocade would continue in efforts to stop a “bloody war” against the Palestinians.

Some activists have accused troops of tasering them when they boarded, their lawyer said. But the Israeli military has denied the allegation.

Organisers said the Estelle was carrying a shipment of humanitarian aid and 30 doves, which the passengers had intended to release after docking in Gaza.

In May 2010, pro-Palestinian activists tried to reach the Gaza Strip in a six-ship flotilla which was stormed by Israeli troops in a botched pre-dawn operation which left nine Turkish nationals dead, sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara.

Since then, there have been several other attempts to reach Gaza by boat, all of which have been stopped by Israel, although there has been no repeat of the bloodshed.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.